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American Fighting Words and 
Phrases Since the Civil War 

Second Edition 



Also by Paul Dickson 

Baseball's Greatest Quotations 

The Dickson Word Treasury 

The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary 

Slang: The Authoritative Topic-by-Topic Dictionary of American 

Lingoes From All Walks of Life 
Sputnik: The Shock of the Century 
The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced 

and Enhanced the History of Baseball 
Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, 

and Graces 
The Electronic Battlefield 

American Fighting Words and 

Phrases Since the Civil War, 

Second Edition 


Brassey's, Inc. 
Washington, D.C. 

Copyright © 1994, 2004 by Paul Dickson 

Published in the United States by Brassey's, Inc. All rights reserved. 
No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever 
without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of 
brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Dickson, Paul. 

War slang : American fighting words and phrases since the 
Civil War / Paul Dickson. — 2nd ed. 
p. cm. 

Includes index. 

ISBN 1-57488-710-6 (pbk : alk. paper) 

1. Soldiers — United States — Language — Dictionaries. 2. English 
language — United States — Slang — Dictionaries. 3. Military art and 
science — United States — Dictionaries. 4. United States — History, 
Military — Dictionaries. 5. Americanisms — Dictionaries. I. Title. 

PE3727.S7D53 2003 
427'.973'088355— dc22 


Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper that meets 
the American National Standards Institute Z39-48 Standard. 

Brassey's, Inc. 

22841 Quicksilver Drive 

Dulles, Virginia 20166 

First Edition 

10 987654321 




War Slang Before the Great War: 
From the War Between the States 
Through the War with Spain 






Terms That Came Up from the Trenches; 
Down from the Dogfight 


G.l.'s, Jeeps, Kilroy, and V-Signs from Two 
Theaters of War 


A Few Words from World War Th 



Out of the Jungles of Southeast Asia 





Grains of "Sandspeak" from the War That 
Was on Every Channel 


Verbal Fallout from Nukes, the Cold War 
(1946-1991), and the Puzzle Palace 


New Words for the Post-9/1 1 World 
and the Iraq War 


"That seems to be one of the nicer things about war — 
it enriches the language so." 

— Novelist Robert C. Ruark, 
in his syndicated newspaper column 
at the beginning of the Korean War, 
July 12, 1950. 


Une of the Revolutionary War's lowest points was reached during the winter 
of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, where George Washington's army teetered on 
the edge of starvation. Albigance Waldo, a Connecticut surgeon, wrote about 
the fare at the encampment: 

What have you for our Dinners, Boys? "Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir." 
At night . . . What is your Supper, Lads? "Fire Cake & Water, Sir." 

What have you got for Breakfast, Lads? "Fire Cake & Water, Sir." The Lord 
send that our Commissary of Purchases may live on Fire Cake & Water. 

Fire cakes were simple to make and terrible to eat. To prepare one, the 
soldier's flour ration was mixed with water to create a paste that was spread 
on a flat stone and stood next to the fire. When sufficiently charred on the 
outside, the fire cake was peeled off the stone and eaten. Invariably, these 
crude cakes were sooty on the outside and doughy and unappetizing on the 

The Americans at Valley Forge were not the first — nor would they be the 
last — military group to eat poorly, nor were they alone in their ability to give 
bad food a good name. The stalwarts who called their terrible bread "fire 
cakes" were just getting started. In Operation Desert Storm, troops in the Persian 
Gulf given M.R.E.'s (Meals Ready to Eat) turned around and renamed them 
"Meals Rejected by Ethiopians." 

From the Revolutionary War through the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, 
tens of thousands of new words and phrases have been born of conflict, bore- 
dom, good humor, bad food, new technology, and the pure horror of war. 
These new words were heard across the lines during the Civil War, in which 
enemies spoke the same language; they emerged from the trenches of World 
War I and out of the jungles of Vietnam. 


Bailouts and blackouts, bug-outs and blast-offs, G.I.'s and grunts, Yanks 
and Rebs, SNAFU and FUBAR, ANZAC and ARVN, Jeeps and Hueys, sidearms 
and sideburns, scuttlebutt and skinny, Scuds and spuds, bolo squads and 
boondocks, dogfaces and doughboys — these are just a few of the thousands of 
slang expressions created by, for, or about American fighting men and women. 

The study of how soldiers spoke and what they spoke about is a fascinating 
one, and I have become all but obsessed by it. I hope that the reader is similarly 
hooked by this book. After all, these are more than "mere words," because 
they give us a different look at times and places when blood was spilled and 
many very young men died. That said, what comes through in much of this 
material is a sense of humor, irony, and comradeship. 

This book was born of an odd impulse on my part. In 1990 I began a 
vigorous attempt to collect the slang of the American fighting men and women 
in the Persian Gulf. It was an attempt to get hold of the sound of conflict 
while the conflict was still going on. Paul McCarthy of Pocket Books saw a 
book in this urge to collect war slang, but immediately suggested that the 
Persian Gulf War be a chapter in a larger work that would look at war slang 
one war at a time. That inspired notion resulted in this book, which begins 
with the Civil War and takes the reader through Operation Iraqi Freedom 
and the continuing war on terrorism. 

The quest was a fascinating one, leading to the unavoidable conclusion 
that wars create great bodies of new language that sound as different as do a 
musket, an M-l, and a Patriot missile. For every term that becomes part of 
the larger language there are three that live on only in the literature of a 
particular period or in the heads of those who were there. The sheer volume 
of war slang is sometimes overwhelming. For instance, the chapter on World 
War II — the largest in the book — contains approximately three thousand slang 
words and phrases of the American forces. Yet those three thousand terms are 
but a sampling, meant to give the reader only the most important terms and 
a feel for the vast variety and relentlessly playful nature of World War II slang. 

Many people helped with this project, and they will be named later. 
However, three individuals were so key to the book that their influence must 
be acknowledged here. The first is the indefatigable linguistic researcher 
Charles D. Poe, who spent hundreds of hours perusing scores of books, fiction 
and nonfiction, for examples of war slang in context. His citations and nota- 
tions — numbering in the many thousands — give this book whatever edge it 
may have over others of the genre. 

The second individual was Randy Roberts, who, along with the staff of 
the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri, 


helped me navigate through the complexities of the mother-lode source on 
American slang: the Peter Tamony Collection. This is the collection where, 
for example, those small soldiers' and sailors' glossaries from two world wars 
are carefully preserved. These are the very items that long ago disappeared 
from general library collections, if they were held in the first place. The cour- 
tesy and help of the Missouri archivists in this project and others has been 
nothing short of remarkable. The third has been, as always, Joseph C. Goulden. 

A few quick notes on the chapters that follow. Each is organized in dictio- 
nary form for easy access. Terms are cross-referenced to the extent that seemed 
practicable. An attempt has been made to provide a rich sampling of word 
etymologies, but space and the fact that many of these terms have such elusive 
origins that the major dictionaries list them as "origin unknown" have limited 
the number of etymologies. For instance, the only way to tackle a term like 
"gadget" with a clearly military origin, would be purely by conjecture. Other 
terms — such as "bogey," meaning an unidentified or enemy aircraft — have 
such complicated and controversial word histories that they go beyond the 
scope of this book. 

So much of modern military language is in the form of acronyms and 
initialisms. Acronyms are pronounced as words and spelled without periods 
("radar," "WAVES," and "scuba," for instance), while initialisms are pro- 
nounced as sequences of letters and written with periods ("G.I." and "P.X.," 
for example). A few terms are seen both ways, such as the term for "absent 
without leave," which is pronounced either as four separate letters 
("A.W.O.L.") or as a single word ("AWOL"). 

Note that the letter-by-letter alphabetizing system is used. For example, 
the following entries appear in the order shown: 



ice wagon 


in a spin 


in velvet 

Numbers are alphabetized as if spelled out. For example: 

about played out 






Wqr Slang Before the Great War: From the War Between 
the States Through the War with Spain 


fWadeline Hutchinson was a small, attractive woman with wispy white hair, 
an eruptive smile, and a most infectiously gleeful Yankee "down east" voice. 
She was born in Weld, Maine, in 1909, the year of a great forest fire, which 
she says was known for decades as "the year the fire came over the mountain"; 
she was married and moved into her home and farm in 1931, was widowed 
in 1974, and died in Weld in 1991. 

Madeline had a lifelong fascination with language and her own "old- 
fashioned" vocabulary, and she and the author of this book spent many hours 
discussing the subject. One thing that seemed most remarkable was the fact 
that her language — and life — though removed by many miles and many dec- 
ades from the war, was still influenced by it. 

The war? The Civil War, that is. Madeline's view of history was strong and 
emotional, and she seldom used that name for the war. The "Great Rebellion" 
or "Rebellion" was her term for the Civil War, and there was still a hint of 
reproach in her voice as she talked of what that conflict had done to her small 
town. She said, "Ninety-three men went to that war and twenty-odd men didn't 
come back." It is clear from what Madeline said that this sacrifice was felt by 
that small rural community for many decades. 


Words from the war — special words — still stuck with her. skedaddlers 
was the name for those who ran away from the war, although the history books 
call them deserters. Madeline added that her mother-in-law, who lived to the 
age of ninety-six, had seen skedaddlers as they passed through town and could 
show you a place where they hid. 

This is a direct link to those men who ran from the Army and the draft 
and were on their way to Canada through Maine. A verse appeared in the 
Canadian press in 1864 entitled "The Cowards Are Coming," which contained 
this stanza: 

This wretched skedaddle (I name it with pain), 

Commenced in loyal lumbering Maine: 

With instinctive cunning and recreant craft, 

They cleared at the "smell" of the purgative "draught." 

There are other examples from Madeline's vocabulary, but the point is 
made that the words of that war of division still live in the language of Ameri- 
cans. In fact, there is still division as to what to call it — the Civil War, the War 
Between the States, or, as Madeline termed it, the Great Rebellion. 

Not only are there different names for the conflict itself, but also for its 
various encounters, and this confusion extends to the present. The point is 
driven home with this sampling: Boonsboro was the southern name for what 
the North called South Mountain; Chickahominy was what the North called 
a battle that the South called Cold Harbor; Manassas (and then Second Ma- 
nassas) was the southern name for what the North called Bull Run (and then 
Second Bull Run); Sharpsburg was how the South recalled what the Federals 
knew as Antietam; Elk Horn was the southern name for what the North said 
was Pea Ridge; Leesburg was the southern name for what the North called 
Ball's Bluff; and Shiloh was the southern name for what the North called — 
in particular, General Grant — Pittsburg Landing. 

The Civil War (1861-1865) 

Without question, the Civil War spawned a slang that was both identifiable 
and proliferating. It was also seen as a nuisance. Here is how it was typified 
in an 1865 article, "A Word About Slang," by R. W McAlpine, in the United 
States Service Magazine: "The existence of a slang element in the Army can- 
not, of course, be prevented. It came from home, where the fault lies." 

What follows is a Civil War glossary that includes some terms that existed 
before the war but only became important during the war. It is an interesting 
compilation because it serves as a baseline for American military slang and 


shows its many early influences: the frontier, rural America, British shipping 
(as the item "A-l" attests), and the ancient traditions of the sea. That glossary 
is, in turn, followed by some of the new slang of the Spanish-American War. 

• it A * 

about played out. Demoralized and 
discouraged (said of an individual or a 

Agnew. A shirt worn by female nurses 
serving with the Union Army. The gar- 
ment was worn with tails out, sleeves up, 
and the collar open. The name came 
from a Dr. Agnew, who lent one of his 
shirts to a nurse during the 1862 Penin- 
sula campaign and thus set the style. 

Anaconda Plan. General Winfield Scott's 
plan to crush the South through block- 
ade and limited military action. It was 
also known as scorrs great snake or 


A-l. Prime; the best; of the highest 
class; first class; first-rate in every re- 
spect. The expression did not originate 
in the classroom. It is derived from the 
classification of ships in Lloyd's Register 
in London, England, and first appeared 
as an adjective in 1837. The famous firm 
of underwriters described the quality of 
a ship's hull by a letter and that of its 
equipment by number. "A-l" means a 
ship of first-class condition as to both 
hull and equipment. 

The use of "A-l" exemplified a trend 
in this war to shorten and abbreviate. 

In his 1865 essay, "A Word About 

Slang," R. W. McAlpine commented at 
some length on this trend: In the army, 
as in the walks of civil life, our language 
loses much by abbreviation and contrac- 
tion, "letters, like soldiers, being very apt 
to drop off on a long march, especially 
if their passage happens to lie near the 
confines of the enemy's country." And, 
"abbreviations and corruptions are al- 
ways busiest with the words which are 
most frequently in use." 

Thus it is that "bombshell" became 
shell; "Minie rifle," plain minnie, with- 
out the accent; "Navy cut tobacco," 
"navy"; "commission," commish; and 
"secessionist," secesh. By the same pro- 
cess and in obedience to the same law, 
"Colt's revolvers" metamorphosed into 
"Colts"; spondulix became "spons"; and 
"greenbacks," greens. A man who reen- 
lists is a vet; one who represents another 
is a sub; and it was no uncommon thing 
to hear a d.b. ordered to go to the "Sut's" 
to get "two botts" of "Whisk" for "Cap 
and Lute," so strong is the inclination to 
do away with all vowels and consonants 
whose utterance impedes business or 
lengthens the time between drinks. 

A.W.O.L Absent without official leave. 
Even prior to the war this term was used 
in the Army. Confederate soldiers caught 
while A.W.O.L. were made to walk about 
the camp carrying a sign bearing these 
letters. See also under World War I and 
under World War II. 


• -tr B * * 

bayonet. A soldier. A statement from 
Abraham Lincoln quoted in Shelby 
Foote's The Civil War (1959) contains the 
line, "There are fifty thousand bayonets 
in the Union armies from the border 
states." See also under the Spanish- 
American War era. 

As a dagger attached to a rifle muzzle, 
the bayonet has been an efficient little 
instrument for use in disemboweling an 
enemy in wartime. It took its name from 
the French bayonette ("knife"), which in 
turn was derived from the name of the 
lovely city of Bayonne, France, where it 
was first made or used. The Italian baio- 
nettata, a dagger that was whimsically 
called "little joker," was first manufac- 
tured in Bayonne, and the early bayonet 
was simply a dagger screwed to the muz- 
zle of a rifle. 

bell the cat. To encounter and cripple 
one of great and superior force; from the 
fable of the mice resolving to place a bell 
on the cat. 

bellyache. (1) A colic. (2) To complain. 
This very old bit of slang has roots in the 
sixteenth century. 

belly robber. A cook or mess sergeant. 
See also under World War I. 

big thing. Any potentially notable 
event or achievement that does not come 
off as notable. In A Dictionary of Soldier 
Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, 
and Ernest Deal, "big thing" is explained 
as: "Something on the order of the moun- 
tain that labored and gave birth to a 
mouse; a big project that trips over its 

own feet. Big thing was sometimes 
howled in chorus, to the everlasting con- 
fusion of the recipient. Gen. George 
McClellan was a big-thing specialist." 

big ticket. An honorable discharge 
from military service. 

black gang. All the members of a 
ship's engineering department. A "sea- 
man" sails on deck as a "sailor," while 
all crewmen "below" belong to the 
"black gang," so-called because of the 
soot, oil, and pitch that darkened their 

blizzard. An intense volley of musket 

Blue, the. The North and its army; from 
the color of its official uniform. 

Blue and the Gray, the. The armies 
of the North and the South; so-called 
from the colors of the uniforms worn by 
the troops. 

bluebacks. Confederate paper cur- 
rency; from its color. 

bluecoat. A soldier of the Union Army. 
After the war, the term saw increasing 
use as a nickname for a policeman. 

blue light. A traitor; an early-American 
term still used during the Civil War, es- 
pecially in the North. According to Rob- 
ert Hendrickson, in American Talk 
(1986), it originated during the War of 
1812, "when pro-British Americans 
flashed blue lights to British ships off the 
coast as a signal that Commodore Ste- 
phen Decatur's two frigates would soon 


be sailing from their New London, Con- 
necticut, harbor." 

blues. The blue uniform of the Union 
Army. According to Elbridge Colby, in 
Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of 
Soldier Speech (1943): 

The blue uniform of the army, as distinct 
from the khaki first introduced in Cuba and 
the Philippines, and the olive drab wool 
worn for a decade and more after 1917. It 
used to be standard in the service. That is 
why the Union Army in the Civil War was 
called "the boys in blue." That is why the 
graduating cadet at West Point sadly and 
gladly sang: 

We'll bid farewell to 'Kaydet Gray,' 
And don the Army Blue. 

bounty jumping. That business in the 
North by which a man would take a cash 
bounty to enlist as a substitute for an- 
other who had been called to serve, then 
desert and enlist again as a substitute, for 
another bounty. In his War Memories of 
an Army Chaplain (1910), H. C. Trum- 
bull recalled the custom: 

The dimension of this evil grew at a fear- 
ful rate. ... I speak of what came under my 
own observation, when I say that substi- 
tutes enlisted and deserted three, five, and 
seven times over; that in single regiments 
one-fourth and again one-half, and yet 
again a larger proportion, of all the men 
assigned under the new call of the Presi- 
dent for five hundred thousand more vol- 
unteers, deserted within a few weeks of 
being started to the front. 

stant riding of horses is thought to bow 
his legs, the cavalryman has for years 
been called bowlegs." 

boys in blue. Union soldiers. 

boys in gray. Confederate soldiers. 

boys of the sod. An affectionate name 
for the Irish — and the all-Irish bri- 
gades — on either side. A song of an Irish 
unit began with the lines: 

Ye boys of the sod, to Columbia true. 
Come up, lads and fight for the Red, 
White and Blue. 

Brains Regiment. The 33rd Illinois, 
because of the many college students 
and teachers in its ranks. It was one of 
many units nicknamed because of a spe- 
cial characteristic. 

brass. Courage; nerve; impudence. All 
are good military characteristics. In his 
Concise Etymological Dictionary of the 
English Language (1882), Walter W. 
Skeat suggests that this meaning of 
"brass" stems from the Icelandic verb 
brasa ("to be hardened by fire"). 

bridgehead. (1) A military salient in 
hostile country (c. 1812). (2) A defensive 
position dominating or covering the ex- 
tremity of a bridge nearest the enemy. 

briney. The sea. 

bowlegs. A cavalryman. Elbridge Colby 
writes in Army Talk: A Familiar Dictio- 
nary of Soldier Speech (1943): "This is 
a somewhat derisive term for a cavalry- 
man, and like all true slang is descriptive 
and figurative in origin. Because con- bum. To carouse 

Bucktails. The 13th Pennsylvania Re- 
serves; so-called because its members or- 
namented their hats with deer fur. 


bummer. (1) A deserter. See also hospi- 
tal bummer. (2) An individual more in- 
terested in the spoils of war than in good 
conduct; a predatory soldier. (3) A ge- 
neric name for the destructive horde of 
deserters, stragglers, runaway slaves, and 
marauders who helped make life miser- 
able in the war-torn South. Bummers 
robbed, pillaged, and burned along with 
General Sherman and his army in Geor- 
gia. These men were known far and wide 
as Sherman's bummers. The term was not 
shortened to "bum" until after the war 
(c. 1870). It is almost certainly a mod- 
ification of the German Bummler 
("loafer"). (The contemporary "bum- 
mer" — as in "What a bummer" — stems 
from the "bum trip" of drug usage, spe- 
cifically a bad reaction to a hallucino- 
genic drug such as LSD.) 

bump. To kill; to die; to shell or bom- 
bard a certain position. The term dates 
from c. 1849 and lives on in the twen- 
tieth-century "bump off" ("to murder"). 

Butternuts. Confederate troops; from 
the fact that some had uniforms dyed 
with a home-brewed butternut dye. 

by hook or by crook. By whatever 
means possible. 

by the numbers. How the Union Army 
taught its recruits to load and fire. See 
nine times, the. See also under World 
War II. 


c * 

cannon fever. War weariness; a strong 
desire to get away from the front lines. 

cap. (1) A captain. (2) To place a per- 
cussion cap in a musket so that it can be 
fired without delay. 

Cape Cod turkey. Salted cod. 

case / casket. A burial box. In 1863 
Nathaniel Hawthorne became so upset 
with the sudden spread of the word "cas- 
ket," which had hithertofore signified a 
jewel box, that he deemed it "a vile mod- 
ern phrase which compels a person . . . 
to shrink . . . from the idea of being 
buried at all." In The American Lan- 
guage (1937), H. L. Mencken reports that 
the term "case" shows up in a report on 
the May 1864 burial of General J. E. B. 

chap. Pal; from the archaic "chapman" 
("merchant" or "trader"). 

Chimneyville. Jackson, Mississippi, 
after it had been burned to the extent 
that all that was left of many buildings 
were their brick chimneys; a Union 
army term. 

chips. A ship's carpenter. 

chow. Food; a meal. The term first ap- 
peared in print in 1856, according to 
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictio- 
nary. In The American Language (1937), 
H. L. Mencken concluded that it had 
been introduced into the United States 
with the first arrival of Chinese in Cali- 
fornia in 1848, and he believed it to be an 
Americanized corruption of the Chinese 
chia ("food"). Evidence suggests that the 
word was used by civilians on the Pacific 
Coast for many decades, but had pretty 
well died out in civilian life in the coun- 


try as a whole until it made a comeback 
after World War II as G.I.'s returned 
home. The word "chow" is still very 
common in the armed forces. A "chow 
hound" is first in line at mess; mealtime 
is "chowtime"; and one who eats 
"chows down." 

coffee boiler. A malingerer; a shirker. 
The type is described in Morris Schaff 's 
The Battle of the Wilderness (1910): 

A real adept skulker or coffee boiler is a 
most interesting specimen, and how well I 
remember the coolness with which he and 
his companion "for they go in pairs" would 
rise from their little fires upon being dis- 
covered, and ask innocently, "Lieutenant, 
can you tell us where the Umpteenth Regi- 
ment is?" And the answer, I am sorry to 
say, was too often: "Yes, right up there at 
the front, you damned rascal, as you well 
know!" Of course, they would make a show 
of moving, but were back at their little fires 
as soon as you were out of sight. 

commish. A commission of any sort. 

Company Q. A special detachment of 
the 150th Pennsylvania Regiment, com- 
posed of officers who had been broken 
in rank for cowardice and were being 
given the chance to redeem themselves 
as private soldiers. "Company Q turned 
out to be a good fighting unit, and most 
of the men in it ultimately regained their 
commissions," reports Bruce Catton in 
A Stillness at Appomattox (1954). 

Confederate disease. Diarrhea. 

confisticate. To confiscate; to snatch 


Copperhead. (1) A northerner with 
sympathy for the South; an antiwar 

northerner. Copperheads got their name 
from the identifying lapel emblems they 
wore, which were copper heads cut from 
pennies and mounted on pins or clasps. 
(2) By extension, any treacherous person. 

Corn Exchange Regiment. The 118th 
Pennsylvania Regiment; so-called be- 
cause it had been raised and equipped 
by the members of the Philadelphia 
Corn Exchange. 

cotton-clads. Steamers protected by 
cotton bales, which temporarily broke 
the Union blockade at Galveston on 
January 1, 1863. The term was a play 


Crabtown. Annapolis, Maryland; so- 
called by the naval cadets. The Naval 
Academy was opened at Annapolis in 
October 1845, and the term was born 
during its opening or immediately fol- 

crack-up / crack up. (1) An accident. 
(2) To fail in an examination; to wreck; 
to cry out; to become insane. The term 
is believed to have originated on the 
western frontier. 

croaker. A pessimist. In A Stillness at 
Appomattox (1954), Bruce Catton de- 
scribed croakers as "congenital pessi- 
mists . . . men who fought well but who 
always darkly prophesied ultimate Rebel 
victory." See also growler. 

crooked shoes. Footwear cut for right 
and left feet. Such shoes were provided 
to Union soldiers, many of whom, prior 
to enlisting, had only worn two shoes 
cut identically. 


crow's nest. A place of observation on 
the foremast of a ship. At some point this 
term, which first appeared before the 
war, became a nickname for the entrance 
gate to an Army post, so-called because 
wives and sweethearts gathered there to 
meet their loved ones. 

cumshaw. A bonus; it refers to a "boo- 
dle" or bribe, rather than a reward or 
present. This Chinese-based word (from 
kamsia, the traditional thank-you of 
street beggars) had been in use along the 
seaboards of America since the 1830s. 

currency. Money. This new term was 
regarded as slang during the war. Money 
had many nicknames during this period, 
including stamps, soap, and shinplaster. 

• * D 


damn Yankee. A southern term ex- 
pressing rancor toward the politicians 
and soldiers of the Union. As Robert 
Hendrickson points out in his Ency- 
clopedia of Word and Phrase Origins 
(1987), the term predates the war by 
many years, having first been applied to 
dishonest northern peddlers who went 
south to sell their goods. 

Davy Jones. The spirit of the sea; the 
sailor's devil (c. 1751). In his Origins of 
Sea Terms (1985), John G. Rogers says the 
name is of uncertain origin, but, "A good 
guess is that West Indian sailors invented 
him, and that it could be a corruption 
of Devil Jonah, or possibly Duffy Jonah, 
duffy being a British West Indian word 
for devil." 

Davy Jones's locker. The ocean, espe- 
cially as the grave of all who perish at 

deadbeat / D.B. Anyone exempt from 
military action, even if in uniform. 

"desecrated" vegetables. Dried vege- 
tables offered as part of the Union Army 
ration. The use of the word "desecrated" 
to describe the Army's patented desic- 
cated vegetables was entirely justified. 
One official report of the time forth- 
rightly stated that these desiccated items 
were "very disagreeable to the taste." 
(These vegetables were very early fore- 
runners of the dehydrated foods used so 
extensively during World War I.) 

dog robber. A servant to an officer. Ac- 
cording to R. W McAlpine, in his 1865 
essay on Civil War slang, "A Word About 
Slang," it was first used at Fort Bridges 
in 1861 and implies "that the man is a 
consumer of what daily morsels should 
fall," thus robbing the officer's dog of 
his due. 

dog tent. A portable tent. It later be- 
came known as a pup tent. 

Doodle. A Union soldier; a Confederate 
term, from "Yankee Doodle." A song of 
the Confederate army that protested the 
constant shortage of guns contained 
this stanza: 

Want a weapon? Why capture one! 
Every Doodle has got a gun, 
Belt and bayonet, bright and new, 
Kill a Doodle, and capture two! 

doughboy. A foot soldier (as early as 
the 1850s). In Glory Road (1952) Bruce 

Catton quotes from the diary of a dis- 
gruntled foot soldier: 

"Our cavalry had lost caste altogether 
with the infantry. Their reported skir- 
mishes with the enemy, and 'driving in the 
rebel pickets,' were received with incredu- 
lous smiles and jeers until they became 
mum as oysters. When hailed for informa- 
tion . . . they would gaze at the infantry in 
stupid wonder at such questions, then 
would laugh among themselves at some re- 
mark of one of theirs about 'doughboys' the 
laugh would then change to sullen anger as 
some shrill-voiced infantry veteran would 
inquire, loud enough to be heard a mile 
away, 'Did you see any dead cavalrymen 
out there?' This pertinent question had the 
effect of making every rider drive spurs 
into his horse and briskly move forward, 
while the sounds of laughter and jeers long 
and loud of their tormentors the 'dough- 
boys' followed them." 

See also under World War I. 

draftee. One who has been drafted for 
the Army. Robert Hendrickson reports 
on the term in Encyclopedia of Word and 
Phrase Origins (1987): 

First recorded in an 1866 Civil War 
memoir, draftee was surely used before this 
during the war, probably as soon as the 
Confederate Conscription Act of 1862 and 
the Union Draft Law of 1863 were passed. 
In the North single men 20 to 45 and mar- 
ried men 29 to 35 were drafted, while the 
South conscripted all men 18 to 35. Most 
men volunteered, however; and only about 
2 percent of the Union Army consisted of 
draftees. During World War II draftee and 
other ee-ending words (such as trainee, en- 
listee, escapee, and amputee) were widely 
used. Draft in the sense of conscription 
comes from the "to draw or pull" meaning 
of the verb to draft. 

dry seaman. A sailor. In 1862, Con- 
gress took away the grog ration and in- 
stead began giving each sailor five cents 
a day. 


• it E & * 

elephant, the. Combat. Recruits were 
said to be ready to "meet the elephant," 
while seasoned soldiers had "seen the 
elephant." The term comes from the lan- 
guage of farmers, who tended to be 
bowled over on seeing an elephant at a 
traveling circus. The term, which pre- 
dated the war dating back to the Mexican 
War and was used as a euphemism for 
the overland experience by those head- 
ing west in the 1849 gold rush to Califor- 
nia, has been used ever since. Here is a 
line from Harold Coyle's 1987 novel, 
Team Yankee: "Those who hadn't seen 
the elephant yet didn't know how to treat 
him so they left him alone." 

evacuation of Corinth, the. Diarrhea. 

• * p ir it 

fight it out of this line. To adopt a 
course of action and thought and to con- 
tinue with it to the end. The phrase was 
made popular by General U. S. Grant 
during the war. 

fire eater. (1) A fire fighter. (2) A pro- 
slavery extremist in Congress before the 
war; a "disunionist." The Fire-Eaters, a 
book by Eric H. Walther, profiles the nine 
most prominent prewar fire-eaters. 

fluke. (1) A fiasco; a failure. (2) A fortu- 
nate turn of events that is the result of 
accident rather than skill. The term came 
into the language just before the war and 
found applications aplenty during the 


F.M.C. / F.W.C. "Free man of color" and 
"free woman of color." Before and during 
the war these initials were attached to 
the names of freed and escaped slaves. 

follow the sea. To pursue the calling 
of a sailor. 

foot cavalry. Fast marchers; those with 
the strength and endurance of a horse. 

Fort Hell. The name given to Fort Sedg- 
wick, outside of Petersburg, Virginia, by 
the soldiers defending it. The fort was 
the focal point of several lines of fire 
from the Petersburg defenses. 

forty acres and a mule. An unkept 
promise made by northern politicians to 
divide the lands of slaveholders and give 
forty acres and a mule to any freed man 
who wanted a farm; also called ten acres 


French fever. Syphilis; from the nine- 
teenth-century belief that all things 
French are naughty. 

fresh fish. Cry that went up from veter- 
ans as a new regiment showed up for 


galley. A ship's kitchen. 

galoot. An inexperienced soldier; a 
clumsy fool. Alfred H. Holt says of it, in 
his Phrase and Word Origins (1961): 
"This belongs in the same category as 
'Tell it to the marines,' for it was origi- 
nally (1812) applied by sailors to the de- 

spised marines, and has loyally kept its 
sense of awkward or worthless fellow." 
Holt was able to connect it plausibly 
with the Italian galeotto ("galley slave"), 
but admitted that the major dictionaries 
deemed its origin obscure. 

galore. A great deal. The term was 
brought into our speech by sailors. It is 
from the Irish go Ieor ("in abundance"). 

galvanized Yankee. A southerner who 
took the oath to the North and served in 
the Union army. It comes from the galva- 
nization process, in which something is 
changed by the application of an elec- 
tric current. 

Gibraltar of the West. Vicksburg, as 
seen by the South. 

goat. (1) A gullible person; a fool; one 
who could easily become a scapegoat. (2) 
A junior officer. 

God's country. A Union name for the 
North, especially in comparison with 
the heat and humidity of the war-torn 
South. By extension, the stars and stripes 
were called "God's flag." 

go up. To be killed; to be tumbled over. 

grand division. An oversized grouping 
of two or more divisions in the Union 

grapevine. News mysteriously con- 
veyed. This term was coined during the 
war; it is a shortened form of "grape- 
vine telegraph." 

In Why Do We Say Such Things? The 
Stories Behind the Words We Use (1947), 


by Bruce Chapman, this account is 

In 1859 Colonel Bernard Bee con- 
structed a telegraph line between Plac- 
erville and Virginia City by attaching the 
wire to trees. With time the wire "no longer 
taut" lay on the ground in loops that 
looked a lot like wild, trailing grapevine. 
During the Civil War similar lines were 
used by the troops and since the reports 
came in over such "grapevine telegraph" 
the term was used to refer to widespread 
rumors which had no definite source and 
were generally false. 

Gray, the. The South and its army; 
from the color of its official uniform. 

grayback / graycoat. A Confederate 

Graybeard Regiment. The 37th Iowa 
Volunteer Infantry specially created by 
special arrangement with the War De- 
partment to show that older, "draft- 
proof" men were welcome in the Union 
Army. All members of the 37th were over 
forty-five years of age. 

greaser. A Mexican or a Spanish- 
American; a racist slur from the start. It 
first appeared in print in 1849, for 
"Mexican," but there is also evidence 
that it was California slang for a person 
of mixed Indian and Mexican descent. In 
World War II, the term took on a new 
meaning: "mechanic." 

Great Rebel I ion. See war of rebellion. 

Great Scott. An exclamation of sur- 
prise; an allusion to General Winfield 
Scott, a hero of the War of 1812 and 
the Mexican War. The term came from 

the election of 1852, when Scott was the 
Whig candidate and campaigned with 
great swagger and vanity. He was jeered 
as "Great Scott" during the campaign, 
and lost the election to Franklin Pierce. 

greens. Money; from "greenbacks." 

grog ration. A traditional daily ration 
of liquor given to sailors in the Navy un- 
til July 14, 1862, when Congress deemed 
that it should "forever cease." See also 


Grog is a mixture of spirit, originally 
rum, and cold water, but then and now 
the term referred to alcoholic drink gen- 
erally. "Grog" came into use in 1745 
when Admiral Edward ("Old Grog") Ver- 
non introduced it into the British navy; 
he was so-called from his wearing in 
cold weather a "grogram cloak." 

growler. A pessimist. In The Road to 
Richmond (1939), Major Abner R. Small 
describes "growlers who on the opening 
of every campaign were attacked with a 
dyspeptic foreboding that defeat and dis- 
aster would follow us." See also croaker. 

grub. Food (since c. 1659). 

gunboats. A pair of boots; also known 
as "mud hooks." 

• * H * * 

hammer and tongs. Violently. 

hand. A workman; a laborer. This term 
first appeared in print in 1658, defined 
as "a seaman." 


hardtack. (1) A ship's biscuit; ordinary 
sea fare, as distinguished from food eaten 
or obtained ashore; coarse food. (2) A 
baked mixture of flour and water, often 
soaked in cold water overnight and fried 
in grease for breakfast. It was a staple in 
the diet of those fighting in the war. 

The noted historian Charles Francis 
Adams spoke for all his fellow veterans 
of the war when he said: "I was poisoned 
by incessant feeding on hardtack and 
meat freshly killed and fried in pork-fat, 
and the inordinate drinking of black cof- 
fee — quarts of it each day." 

Cooking at that time was done by un- 
trained personnel. Messes consisted nor- 
mally of four to eight men, each of whom 
took his turn in serving as cook. On the 
march or in contact with the enemy, men 
often found it more convenient to pre- 
pare their food individually. 

heavy. An oversized artillery regiment. 
This is one of those fascinating terms 
with a number of military slang applica- 
tions; the term has also been used in later 
days to refer to heavy machine guns, 
large aircraft, aircraft carriers, and high- 
ranking officers. 

Here's how! A toast. 

high-number regiments. New regi- 
ments, with higher numbers in their 
names, sent south after 1862; they were 
never seen to be the equals of the lower- 
numbered regiments, composed of men 
who had enlisted earlier in the war. 
Some regiments from New York and 
Pennsylvania had numbers well over 
one hundred. 

hike. A march; from the Chinook In- 
dian hyak ("to hurry"). 

hog and hominy. Lincoln's term for 
southern rations. Cutting off the Confed- 
erates from Knoxville and the West, for 
instance, was seen as a means of cutting 
off "hog and hominy." The comparable 
alliterative ration for the North was prob- 
ably "bread and bacon," used by Major 
Abner R. Small in The Road to Rich- 
mond (1939). Both sides were provi- 
sioned by "food and forage." 

hooker. Prostitute. The term did not 
originate during the war, as it was al- 
ready in use. The war gave it a boost, 
however, thanks to Union General Joseph 
Hooker, whose name was given to a large 
red-light district in Washington, D.C. The 
area was known as "Hooker's Division" 
after the wild proclivities of Hooker and 
his men. 

horse collar. A bedroll with straps. It 
was used in lieu of the cumbersome 
knapsack and worn like a huge collar. 

hospital bummer. One who fakes his 
way out of combat and into a military 
hospital. See also bummer. 

howitzer. A gun of high trajectory and 
low muzzle velocity. At the time of the 
war, there were six different types of 
howitzers in the Army, two of which 
were used in seacoast defense. Later the 
term was used by soldiers to refer to a 
large woman or girl. 

The word "howitzer" is derived from 
the German word Haubitze (a sling). The 
same type of weapon as the howitzer is 
referred to in German literature as Steil- 
feuergeschiitze ("steep fire gun"). Howit- 
zers first appeared at the time of Louis 
XIV and were used for both field and 

siege work in the British and Dutch 

howker. A sailor with two or more 
sweethearts; from the Dutch howker (a 
vessel with two masts). 

# * | * * 

in the air. Unprotected; for example, 
the unprotected flank of an army. It is 
a term that survived to other wars; for 
instance, Joe Goulden's Korea: The Un- 
told Story of the War (1982) tells of Ma- 
rine companies "hanging in the air." 

iron. Short for ironclad. 

* it J it * 

jiffy. An instant; the shortest possible 

Johnny Reb. A soldier in the Confeder- 
ate army; also, those of the South, col- 
lectively. Sometimes it was plain 
"Johnny" — and hardly hostile — as in 
these lines from The Personal Memoirs 
of U. S. Grant, on fraternization at the 
siege of Vicksburg: 

During the siege there had been a good 
deal of friendly sparring between the sol- 
diers of the two Armies, on picket where 
the lines were close together. . . . Often 
"Johnny" would call, "Well, Yank, when 
are you coming to town?" The reply was 
sometimes: "We propose to spend the 
Fourth of July there." 

Iron Brigade. Five midwestern regi- 
ments whose troops wore black hats and 
had a reputation as particularly tough 
fighters. Bruce Catton wrote that nobody 
was quite sure where the name came 
from but that the accepted story was 
that General George McClellan watched 
the progress of the regiments through 
the gap at South Mountain and ex- 
claimed, "That brigade must be made of 
iron!" There was also a Confederate Iron 
Brigade, whose riders, writes Burke 
Davis in The Long Surrender (1985), 
"terrorized enemy-held areas of the 

iron rations. U. S. Army staples of 
hardtack, salt pork, and coffee. 

ironclad. (1) A man-of-war plated with 
thick sheets of steel. (2) Hard, strong, un- 
yielding; a severely chaste woman. 


Kearny patch. A red marker — a red 
lozenge of flannel — worn on the caps of 
the men under the leadership of Phil 
Kearny. Because of the patches, the outfit 
became known as the Red Diamond Divi- 
sion, and new units joining the division 
could not wear it until they had proven 
themselves in combat. "Later in the war," 
writes Bruce Catton in Mr. Lincoln's 
Army (1951), "Kearny's device was taken 
up at headquarters, and a special patch 
was made up for each army corps. The 
shoulder patches worn by American sol- 
diers in subsequent wars were direct de- 
scendants of Phil Kearny's morale 

keelhaul. To haul under the keel of a 
ship; to punish with humiliation. 


kick the bucket. To die (since c. 1785, 
but in common use during the period of 
the Civil War). Harold Wentworth and 
Stuart Berg Flexner's Dictionary of 
American Slang (I960) states: "Now 
widely believed to refer to the last voli- 
tional act of one who, standing on an up- 
turned bucket, fixes around his neck a 
noose suspended from the ceiling." 

• •& L * * 

lamp post. A large shell (for example, 
the ten-inch shell fired from Union gun- 
boats at targets ashore). 

late unpleasantness, the. Term used 
in the postwar period to describe the 
American Civil War. 

leg case. Abraham Lincoln's own term 
for a brave man cursed by cowardly 
legs — that is, a man who ran from com- 
bat. Lincoln often pardoned condemned 
"leg cases" as well as soldiers who fell 
asleep at their posts, to the consternation 
of some of his generals. One one occa- 
sion Lincoln was confronted by an angry 
general who accused Lincoln of destroy- 
ing discipline with his pardons and de- 
manded that he sign a death warrant. 
Lincoln's reply: "General, there are too 
many weeping widows in the United 
States now. For God's sake don't ask me 
to add to the number; for I tell you 
plainly that I won't do it." 

lick into shape. To train; to fashion 
(1663). In The Animal Things We Say 
(1983), Darryl Lyman explains: "In the 
Middle Ages, it was widely believed that 
a baby bear is born as a shapeless mass 
and that the mother has to lick the object 

with her tongue until the blob is molded 
into the proper shape for a little bear 

Little Mac. General George McClellan, 
also known as "The Young Napoleon." 
There were many colorful nicknames in 
this war: General Edwin V. Sumner, a 
man with a booming voice, was known 
as "The Bull of the Woods"; Brigadier 
General William H. French was known, 
alternatively, as "Old Winkey" and "Old 
Blinky"; General Henry Halleck was 
known as "Old Brains"; and General Al- 
pheus S. Williams was known simply as 
"Pop" by his troops. Some nicknames 
had interesting explanations; for exam- 
ple, General George Armstrong Custer 
was known as "Cinnamon" because of 
the cinnamon-flavored hair oil he used. 

long swords. The Cavalry; so-called 
by Indians. 

loyalist. A Union sympathizer in the 

* * AA * * 

madam. A brothel keeper. 

mail carrier. A spy. 

mate. (1) A partner; a companion. (2) 
One who ranks above a chief petty officer 
and below a warrant officer and who is 
regarded as having the status of both an 
officer and an enlisted man (also used 
with a qualifying term, as in "boat- 
swain's mate" and "gunner's mate," as a 
title for certain petty officers). 

medico. A member of the medical de- 


meet the elephant. See elephant, the. 

mess. (1) A group of sailors, Marines, 
or soldiers eating at the same table. In 
his Origins of Sea Terms (1985), John G. 
Rogers says of the term: "The word came 
from Middle English, mes, and goes back 
to Late Latin, missum, that which is put 
on the table. It is a military as well as a 
seafarer's term." (2) A difficulty; a mix- 
ture; disorder. 

Melvillian Mess 

The common seamen in a large frigate 
are divided into some thirty or forty 
messes, put down on the purser's books 
as Mess No. 1 , Mess No. 2, Mess No. 3, 
& c. The members of each mess club 
their rations of provisions, and break- 
fast, dine, and sup together in allotted 
intervals between the guns on the main- 
deck. In undeviating rotation, the mem- 
bers of each mess (excepting the petty- 
officers) take their turn in performing 
the functions of cook and steward. And 
for the time being, all the affairs of the 
club are subject to their inspection and 

— Herman Melville, White-Jacket, 
or, The World in a Man-of-War 

middy. A midshipman (since the War 
of 1812). 

Minnie. The Minie rifle. 

Monitor. An ironclad turret-ship cre- 
ated by John Ericsson, who came up with 
the name himself. In a letter of January 
2, 1862, to the naval authorities, he said 
that he had designed the vessel "to ad- 
monish the leaders of the Southern Revo- 
lution" and that it would "prove a severe 

monitor to them." He then wrote: "On 
these and other grounds I propose to 
name the new battery Monitor." 

mosquito fleet. The Confederate work- 
boats outfitted with one gun apiece; a de- 
risive name. The term "mosquito" came 
into play again during World War II. See 
also under World War I. 

Mozart Regiment. The 40th New York 
Regiment, which according to Bruce Cat- 
ton in Mr. Lincoln's Army (1951) took 
this name "not because the men were de- 
voted to music, but because the regiment 
had been organized with the special 
blessing of Mayor Wood of New York, 
whose personal faction in the New York 
Democratic party was known as the Mo- 
zart Hall Group, in opposition to 

mud hooks. A pair of boots; also 
known as "gunboats." 

mud lark. See slow bear. 

mudsill. A person of the lowest pos- 
sible social class; a lowlife. The term 
came into play as a taunt; for instance, 
southern newspapers called Sherman's 
troops a "grand army of mudsills." 

mugger. A prisoner who preyed on fel- 
low prisoners. In The Road to Richmond 
(1939), Major Abner R. Small talks of a 
Maryland prison with desperado mug- 
gers "who seemed to have the white card 
to beat, rob, and kill the weaker of their 
fellow prisoners." By the end of the war, 
the term was in general use as a name for 
one who attacks with the intent of 


muster out. To be killed in action. 

* a N * * 

neck decoration. The Medal of Honor, 
which was created by Congress on July 
12, 1862. It was — and still is — the high- 
est-ranked medal and the only "neck" 
decoration among U.S. military medals. 

old Navy. The federal Navy of the pre- 
war period. 

old soldier. One who pretended to be 
sick or disabled so he could avoid drill 
and take life easy in a hospital tent. 

old woodpecker. One who would be 
hard to take by surprise. In Shelby 
Foote's The Civil War (1959). 

news walker. A self-appointed re- 
porter who would wander up and down 
the lines after battle to exchange infor- 
mation. Bruce Catton says of news 
walkers in A Stillness at Appomattox 
(1954): "They were always welcomed, 
and they were always watched quite 
closely, because they were notoriously 
light-fingered and would steal any haver- 
sacks that were within their reach." 

nine times, the. The nine separate and 
distinct operations involved in loading a 
Springfield muzzle loader; recruits were 
trained to load by the numbers. Bruce 
Catton notes in Mr. Lincoln's Army 
(1951): "Drill on the target range began 
with the command, 'Load in nine 
times: load!'" 

• ft 

tr • 



off the country. Foraged for (as in 
"food off the country"). 

Oh, Perdition! An oath. 

old man. The commander of a unit; the 
father of a family; a husband; a term of 
cordiality or endearment. See also under 
World War I. 

paper collar / paper-collar sol- 
dier. A soldier from the northeast (to 
westerners). In Battle Cry of Freedom 
(1988), James M. McPherson tells of 
western farm boys and outdoorsmen re- 
garding themselves as much tougher 
than the effete and "pasty-faced" office 
workers, or "paper collars." McPherson 
goes on to say that the "clerks and me- 
chanics of the East proved to be more im- 
mune to the diseases of camp life and 
more capable in combat of absorbing and 
inflicting punishment than Western 
Union soldiers." 

Pathfinder of the Sea. The nickname 
of Confederate Matthew Fontaine Maury, 
who had, among other accomplishments, 
published the first textbook on oceanog- 
raphy and conducted much research on 
ocean currents and winds. 

pea jacket. A short coat of thick 
woolen cloth, worn by seamen. The term 
has nothing to do with "pea soup" (a 
thick fog), as has been written on more 
than one occasion. The word "pea" 
would seem to be a corruption of the 
Dutch pij'e, a coat made with coarse 

peas on a trencher. The breakfast 
bugle call. All bugle calls had nick- 
names: the dinner call was known as 
"roast beef," and according to Bruce Cat- 
ton in Glory Road (1952), "the call which 
summoned men to advance against the 
enemy was known for some reason as 
'Tommy Totten.'" 

pig sticker. A bayonet; a long-bladed 

platoon. A small body of soldiers, espe- 
cially a portion of a company operating 
as a unit. 

political general. One appointed for 
political rather than military reasons. 
James M. McPherson says in Battle Cry 
of Freedom (1988) that the term became 
"almost a synonym for incompetency." 

pond, the. The Atlantic Ocean. 

powder monkey. One who carries 
shells or gunpowder from the magazine 
to the gun. 

pup tent. A portable tent. 

* ft Q 


Quaker gun. A dummy or decoy gun; 
so-called because of the pacifist nature 
of Quakers. In 1861, General Joseph 
Johnston, the Confederate commander at 
Manassas, erected Quaker guns at Cen- 
terville. Johnston's guns were nothing 
more than logs painted black, sawed off 
at one end and pointed in the right direc- 
tion. The trick caused the Union to think 
it faced a much stronger force. See also 
Quaker, under World War II. 

ft ft R ft ft 

rackansacker. A hard-bitten outdoors- 
man fighting for the South, who would, 
presumably, be quick to "wrack and 
sack" (ruin and pillage) in a war. 

ration. The food allowance for one man 
for one day. Elbridge Colby wrote in 
Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of Sol- 
dier Speech (1943): "[TJhis word is so 
widely understood that it would not 
have been included here were it not nec- 
essary to caution folk that to pronounce 
it to rhyme with 'nation' is the mark of a 
civilian and a raw recruit." He then cau- 
tions: "Old soldiers always pronounce it 
to rhyme with the first two syllables of 
'national.' Another quirk of speech 
causes it almost always to be used only 
in the plural, and loosely so as to mean 
merely 'something to eat.'" 

ready-finder. A civilian who followed 
the Army to pick up the discarded coats, 
blankets, and other items shed by sol- 
diers, especially when the weather 
turned hot. The term was used by 
Union troops. 

reb. A rebel; personified as johnny reb. 

rebel. A southern soldier; an inhabitant 
of the Confederate States of America. 

rebel yell. The Confederate battle cry; 
a prolonged, high-pitched cry issued be- 
fore combat. Bruce Catton writes in 
Glory Road (1952): 

That yell— "that hellish yell," a Michi- 
gan soldier called it — appears to have been 
an actual power in battle, worth many regi- 
ments to the Confederacy. A federal sur- 
geon wrote after the war: "I have never 


since I was born, heard so fearful a noise 
as a rebel yell. It is nothing like a hurrah, 
but rather a regular wildcat screech." 

The Union Army's equivalent was to give 
three cheers. 

Was the term "rebel yell" used during 
the war? According to Webster's Ninth 
New Collegiate Dictionary, it did not ap- 
pear in print until 1868. In J. A. Wor- 
sham's memoir, One of Jackson's Foot 
Cavalry (1912), the yell is referred to as 
a "Confederate yell." 

Red Diamond Division. See Kearny 

red tape. Official formality (from the 
actual red tape used to bind government 
documents); adherence to a prescribed 
routine, especially when delay results. 
This term seemed to come into its own 
during the war. In The Road to Rich- 
mond (1939), Major Abner R. Small tells 
of various hurdles he encounters trying 
to get the remains of a dead soldier back 
to Maine from Virginia; he obtains the 
body and the money to ship it, but con- 
cedes, "Red tape was more difficult to 
manage." At another point he complains 
that "we couldn't clothe our men with 
reports and red tape." 

red-tape-ism. Red tape as a belief sys- 
tem. In Bruce Catton's Mr. Lincoln's 
Army (1951), a young officer in the 57th 
New York Regiment is quoted as com- 
plaining about an old officer who "suf- 
fered from red-tape-ism slowness, desire 
for a comfortable berth, and above and 
beyond all, jealousy." 

red-tapist. An excessively bureaucratic 
government official. 

reign of iron. The new age dawning in 
naval warfare. Shortly after the first en- 
gagement of ironclads, in 1862, Rear Ad- 
miral John Dahlgren said, "Now comes 
the reign of iron — and cased sloops are 
to take the place of wooden ships." 

reveille. A signal, as of a drum or bugle, 
given about sunrise, to waken soldiers 
and sailors for the day's duties; from the 
French reVeiller ("to awaken"). The lyr- 
ics for the wake-up bugle call are usually 
given as follows: 

I can't get 'em up, 

I can't get 'em up, 

I can't get 'em up in the morning; 

I can't get 'em up, 

I can't get 'em up a-tall. 

The corp'ral's worse than privates, 

The sergeant's worse than corp'rals, 

The lieutenant's worse than sergeants, 

And the captain's worst of all. 

run amuck. To be in a state of murder- 
ous frenzy; to try to kill all who come in 
one's way. This is an old Malay term — 
amok (a murderous, frenzied state) — 
which entered the English language in 
the seventeenth century. By the time of 
the Civil War the phrase was being used 
figuratively to describe a person mad- 
dened with liquor or one who attacks 
others indiscriminately. 

"Running amuck" has acquired a lurid 
history that lacks scholarly verification, 
but makes up for it in purple prose. Here 
is how it was explained in a dictionary 
of military slang and terminology, Words 
of the Fighting Forces (1942), by Clin- 
ton A. Sanders and Joseph W Blackwell, 
Jr.: "The term is used to describe the be- 
havior of Malays when, maddened with 
opium, they rush about in a frenzied 
state shouting, Amoq, Amoq!' (Kill! 


Kill!) and murderously attack anyone 
who gets in their way. One man running 
amuck may kill a dozen people before he 
is struck down." 

* s 


salt. Salt beef; an old sailor. 

schooner. (1) A vessel rigged fore and 
aft with two masts, a foremast and a 
mainmast. The word, borrowed from the 
Scottish dialect, was first used in 
America by Captain Andrew Robinson, 
the builder of the first schooner, 
launched at Gloucester, Massachusetts, 
in 1713. The Scotch took the term from 
the Norse skunna ("to hasten"). (2) A 
large glass holding twice the amount 
contained by an ordinary glass. 

Scott's Great Snake / Scott's Snake. 

Other names for the anaconda plan, 
aimed at strangling the South snake- 

A Bogus Word History 

At the Bizerte Naval Base, we got the 
first scuttlebutt about the coming inva- 
sion of continental Italy. "Scuttlebutt," 
that's Navy slang for gossip. Nobody 
seems to know how the word "scuttle- 
butt" got started unless somebody saw 
Crosby from the rear . . . although 
Crosby from the rear is definitely not ru- 
mor: that is solid fact. (Note to Composi- 
tor: Please leave the "c" in that last word 
even though you've seen Crosby from 
the rear.) 

— Bob Hope, Life (August 7, 

scuttlebutt. Gossip. Originally, "scut- 
tlebutt" referred to the place from which 
a ship's crew got drinking water. A scut- 
tle is a hole and a butt is a barrel. The 
term was first seen in print in the early 
nineteenth century. 

secesh / sesesch. Secession (as in "se- 
cesh sympathies"). Generally, it was a 
northern term of derision. The term was 
able to hang on for many years after the 
war. In Our Times: The Turn of the Cen- 
tury (1936), Mark Sullivan writes of the 
way Americans spoke in the year 1900 
and points out that despite the fact that 
many of the rancors of the Civil War had 
been buried, "Such terms as Rebel, Yank, 
and damn Yankee and Secesh were still 
occasionally used, sometimes with a 
touch of ancient malice." 

secesher. A southerner. 

see the elephant. To go into combat 
for the first time. See elephant, the. 

sharpshooter. One skilled in shooting, 
especially with a rifle; a marksman of ac- 
curate aim, especially one engaged in 
skirmishing and outpost duty. The term 
was given particular relevance in the title 
of an Alexander Gardner photograph, 
"Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter." The 
man lay dead between two immense bul- 
let-scarred rocks. He had been wounded 
in the head and had had time to prop his 
rifle against one of the rocks before lying 
down to die. 

It has been widely reported that the 
term "sharpshooter" was coined in con- 
nection with the demonstrated accuracy 
of the Sharps breechloading rifle, in- 


vented in 1848 by Christian Sharps. 
Plausible as that may sound — and most 
bogus etymologies sound plausible — the 
explanation is incorrect because the term 
"sharpshooter" was used long before the 
Sharps rifle was invented, to designate 
specially skilled riflemen selected to 
pick off members of a hostile force. 
"Mounted sharpshooters" is the phrase 
so used in James's Universal Military 
Dictionary (1802). The advent of the 
Sharps rifle no doubt contributed to the 
popular use of the term "sharpshooter" 
during the Civil War. 

she. The pronoun used when referring 
to a ship. 

Word Her-Story 

There is considerable lore attached to 
the nautical genderfication represented 
by this use of "she": 

• The ancient Greeks called their ships 
by feminine names out of respect for 
Athene, inventor of sailing ships and 

• In the Latin language, the word for 
"ship" (navis) is feminine. 

• Through the ages, ships have been 
endowed, in imagination, with wom- 
anly qualities, because of their beauty 
and grace and their hold upon the af- 
fections of seamen. 

• Sailing vessels often had the head or 
bust of a woman at the prow as a 

shell. A bombshell. 

Sherman necktie. An iron rail heated 
over a bonfire of railroad ties and twisted 
around a tree. This was a northern 
means of disabling railroads in the 
South. It was also known as a "Sher- 
man hairpin." 

Sherman's bummers. Desperadoes 
who helped Sherman burn and pillage. 


Sherman sentinel. Any chimney left 
standing after General Sherman's drive 
to the sea. 

shinplaster. The fractional currency 
(worth ten cents, twenty-five cents, etc.) 
issued by the Union in response to coin 
shortages during the war. The term has 
been assumed to have come from the no- 
tion that the only practical use for these 
bills was to plaster your shins with them. 

Shoddy. Noun used to describe the 
uniforms provided to the Union Army by 
unscrupulous suppliers. Shelby Foote 
describes it in The Civil War (1958): 

Shoddy was . . . used to designate an infe- 
rior woolen yarn made from fibers taken 
from worn-out fabrics and reprocessed, 
then later as the name of the resultant 
cloth. "Poor, sleazy stuff," one of Horace 
Greeley's Tribune reporters called it, "wo- 
ven open enough for sieves, and then filled 
with shearsmen's dust"; while Harper's 
Weekly referred to it as "a villainous com- 
pound, the refuse and sweepings of the shop, 
— pounded, rolled, glued, and smoothed to 
the external form and gloss of cloth, but 
no more like the genuine article than the 
shadow is to the substance. . . . soldiers on 
the first day's march or in the earliest 
storm, found their clothes, overcoats, and 
blankets scattering to the wind in rags, or 
dissolving . . . under the pelting rain." 

shrapnel. A type of artillery shell that 
showers pieces of metal on exploding; 
invented by a Briton, Henry Shrapnel 
(1761-1842). A single shell discharged 
350 or more shots, each capable of kill- 
ing or wounding within forty-four yards 
of the bursting point. 


sideburns. The popular side-whiskers 
of the period; named after General Am- 
brose Burnside of the Army of the Poto- 
mac. The two halves of the man's name 
were transposed in the 1880s, after the 

skedaddler / skedaddle. (1) A de- 
serter. (2) To desert. In The American 
Language, Supplement 1 (1945), H. L. 
Mencken says that this term was prob- 
ably in use before the war, but did not 
become popular until men began to de- 
sert. Its origins have mystified etymolo- 
gists. According to Stuart Berg Flexner, 
in I Hear America Talking (1976), it is 
from Scots and a northern England dia- 
lect, probably derived from the Greek 
skedannunai ("to split up"). R. W. Mc- 
Alpine insists in his 1965 essay on Civil 
War slang, "A Word About Slang," that 
it comes from "good Hellenic stock," the 
Greek skedannumi ("to run in a crowd"), 
but McAlpine is at a loss to explain how 
or when this term from Homer and 
Hesiod was Americanized. 

thing else in this world, always make haste 
slowly. One hour too much is vastly better 
than five minutes too little, with rare ex- 
ceptions. A big fire scorches your soup, 
burns your face, and crisps your temper. 
Skim, simmer, and scour, are the true se- 
crets of good cooking. 

slouch hat. A British-style wide- 
brimmed felt hat; first introduced into 
the U.S. in the 1830s. Confederate troops 
made them popular. 

slow bear. A pig. In I Hear America 
Talking (1976), Stuart Berg Flexner 
writes that "slow bear," along with the 
synonymous "mud lark," were just two 
of the humorous euphemisms the short- 
rationed, foraging troops used to refer to 
the farmers' pigs they killed and ate. He 
adds: '"Confederate beef was a term the 
Union troops gave the Southern cows 
and horses they killed and ate but, after 
Grant's six-weeks siege of Vicksburg, 
May 19-July 4, 1963, it referred to the 
mules the Confederate army had been 
forced to eat there." 

skeesicks. One's tentmate. 

skillygalee. hardtack soaked in water, 
drained, and fried in pork fat. In Mr. Lin- 
coln's Army (1951), by Bruce Catton, a 
vet is quoted as saying that the dish was 
"certainly indigestible enough to satisfy 
the cravings of the most ambitious dys- 

skim, simmer, and scour. The motto 
of Civil War cooks. It is explained in 
Camp Fires and Camp Cooking (1862), 
by Captain James M. Sanderson: 

Remember that beans, badly boiled, kill 
more than bullets; and fat is more fatal 
than powder. In cooking, more than any- 

slows, the. Chronic caution and slow- 
ness. When General George McClellan 
was relieved of command of the Armies 
of the United States on March 11, 1862, 
it was only after President Lincoln had 
said on more than one occasion that "Lit- 
tle Mac has got the slows." 

slum / slumgullion. A stew created 
from whatever is at hand. The term ap- 
pears to be a pure Americanism that first 
shows up during the gold rush of 1849, 
when, according to H. L. Mencken in 
The American Language, Supplement 1 
(1945), it was used to describe a muddy 
residue left after sluicing gravel; but it 
was soon extended to food and drink, 


Slum (100 servings) 

Over time, slum(gullion) became a more 
formalized stew. The following is from 
Army Recipes ( 1 944): 

Meat, carcass 

40 lb. 


Meat, boneless 

20 lb. 

Flour, sifted 

VA lb 


6 oz. 




VA lb 

Water or beef stock 

4 gal. 

Onions, small whole 

8 lb. 

Carrots, sliced or cubed 

8 lb. 

Turnips, sliced or cubed 

8 lb. 

Celery, diced 

5 lb. 

Peas, fresh or frozen 

5 1b. 

Water, boiling 

Flour, sifted (for gravy) 

1 lb. 

Water, cold (for gravy) 




1 . Cut meat into one- to two-inch cubes. 

2. Mix flour, salt, and pepper together. 
Roll meat in flour and cook in fat un- 
til brown. 

3. Add water or stock. Cover and heat 
to boiling point. Reduce heat and 
simmer 2Vi to 3 hours or until tender. 

4. Add vegetables in the following or- 
der, allowing required time for each 
to cook: onions 45 minutes to 1 hour,- 
carrots 30 minutes; turnips and cel- 
ery 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, re- 
serve liquid. 

5. Barely cover peas with boiling water. 
Heat to boiling point. Reduce heat 
and simmer 30 minutes or until 

6. Mix flour and water. Stir until 
smooth. Add to hot meat and vege- 
table stock. Heat to boiling point. 
Boil 2 minutes stirring constantly. 
Add salt and pepper. 

Pour gravy over meat and vegetables. 
Add cooked peas. Reheat. 

and by the time of the war was applied 
to campfire stews. See also under World 
War I. 

smart money. (1) An allowance of 
money granted to soldiers, sailors, Ma- 
rines, and others of the fighting forces of 
the United States who have been 
wounded or injured in the line of duty. 
(2) A sum of money paid by a person to 
buy himself off from the unexpired por- 
tion of his enlistment. This term was an- 
cient at the time of the war, but 
nevertheless relevant. 

snatch bald-headed. To confiscate; to 
steal with strategy rather than on im- 

soap. Money. 

son of a bitch. A term of contempt; a 
term of endearment; a rascal. According 
to H. L. Mencken in The American Lan- 
guage, Supplement 1 (1945): "It rose to 
popularity in the United States during 
the decade before the Civil War, and at 
the start was considered extremely offen- 
sive." Its softer cousin, "son of a gun," is 
old slang and had its origin as a seafaring 
term in the British navy back in the days 
of square-rigged ships. Dagobert A. 
Runes, the editor of Better English, pub- 
lished in the 1930s, gave this version of 
the etymology of the term: 

In those days women sometimes accom- 
panied ships of the fleet and on voyages of 
extended duration it was not unusual for 
some of these women to become with 
child. When that happened the gun deck 
was improvised into a maternity ward, and 
the blasts from a cannon were employed as 


a crude measure to hasten labor. The off- 
spring which resulted in such cases, usu- 
ally uncertain of his paternal forebear, was 
nicknamed a "son-of-a-gun." 

Others agree that this was the general 
origin, but Runes may be alone in his 
claim that the guns were fired to in- 
duce labor. 

spondulix. Money (from the shell of 

the mussel SpondyJus); suggestive of 

wampum. Sometimes shortened to 

stamps. Money. 

stars and bars. The flag of the Confed- 
erate States of America; a play on the 
Union's "stars and stripes." 

strawfoot. (1) A rural or backwoods 
soldier (as if he still had straw on his 
shoes). (2) A rookie. 

Here is what Stuart Berg Flexner says 
of the term in I Hear America Talking 
(1976): "[Ljegend has it that drill ser- 
geants found such men didn't know their 
left foot from their right, so taught them 
to march by having them tie hay to their 
left foot and straw to the right, then 
called out the marching cadence 'hay- 
foot! strawfoot!' instead of the usual 
'left! right!'" 

sub. One who represents or serves for 

substitute broker. An agent whose 
business was to secure men to enlist as 
substitutes for men called to serve. The 
brokers took a percentage of the bounty 
paid to the substitute by the draftee for 

swab. (1) A sailor; from "swabber" (for 
"mop"), a term applied to a large mop 
used aboard ship for cleaning decks. (2) 
Anything used for mopping; a cleaner for 
the bore of a cannon. (3) An epaulet of a 
naval officer. (4) An awkward fellow. 

swabber. One who uses a swab; one of 
a ship's crew charged with swabbing the 
decks; a petty officer in charge of swab- 
bing the decks. 

swamp angel. The eight-inch Parrott 
gun. The gun was used in 1863 to shell 
Charleston with 200-pound incendiary 
projectiles during the Union siege of that 
city. Placed in the marshes of James Is- 
land, it was not terribly effective, but it 
was seen as an atrocity by the South be- 
cause it was aimed at the old men, 
women, and children of a sleeping city. 
The gun was named for its inventor, Rob- 
ert Parker Parrott, of West Point, and was 
America's first rifled cannon. 

After the war, "swamp angel" was, ac- 
cording to H. L. Mencken in The Ameri- 
can Language, Supplement 1 (1945), 
"used to designate one of the bands of 
Ruffians associated with the Ku Klux 

• -sir J 


taps. (1) A signal on a drum, bugle, or 
trumpet at which all lights in the sol- 
diers' or sailors' quarters must be extin- 
guished. Taps was blown for the first 
time over the grave of Robert Elocombe 
in July 1865. This call or signal is now 
used by the English and French, too. (2) 
A specific bugle call of peculiar beauty 
and solemnity; by extension and because 
of its use at funerals and at the end of the 


day, it has come to mean the end, death. 
Elbridge Colby wrote of it in Army 
Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of Soldier 
Speech (1943): 

It is the last call blown by buglers at 
night, and is always sounded at military 
funerals. In its present form, the call was 
devised during the Civil War by General 
Daniel Butterfield, to replace the earlier 
"Lights Out," or "Tattoo," which had been 
inaugurated at West Point in 1840 and used 
in some regiments during the Mexican War 
in connection with funerals. 

In Glory Road (1952), Bruce Catton adds 
that Butterfield knew that it was not mu- 
sical, but "he wanted one which would 
somehow express the idea of a darkening 
campground with tired men snugging 
down to a peaceful sleep, and he hoped 
his new call would do it." 

tell it to the Marines. A phrase that 
expresses doubt. It is not American, as 
many think, but English. Its first written 
use was in Samuel Pepys's Diary, in 
which the seventeenth-century author 
reported that a colonel of the marines 
told King Charles II a wild tale of having 
seen flying fish. According to Pepys, the 
king then said: 

Mr. Pepys, from the very nature of their 
calling, no class of our subjects can have 
so wide a knowledge of seas and lands as 
the officers and men of our loyal maritime 
regiment. Henceforth whenever we cast 
doubt upon a tale that lacketh likelihood 
we will tell it to the Marines — if they be- 
lieve it, it is safe to say it is true. 

See also under World War I. 
ten acres and a mule. See forty 


Tennessee quickstep. Diarrhea. 

tinclad. A derisive term for ironclad. 

toad stabber / toad sticker. A sword; 
a knife; a bayonet. 

torpedo. A waterborne device for the 
destruction of a ship. Many types were 
devised during the war, and these inven- 
tions were responsible for destroying 
twenty-two Union vessels and six Con- 
federate. It was at this time that Matthew 
Fontaine Maury, the man known as the 
pathfinder of the sea, working at his 
home, at 1105 East Clay Street, Rich- 
mond, Virginia, invented the submarine 
torpedo. He also invented a method for 
planting and testing torpedoes, but the 
end of the war came before the value of 
the discovery could be realized. 

The name "torpedo" was given by Rob- 
ert Fulton to an enclosed mass of gun- 
powder designed to be exploded under a 
hostile vessel. This type of torpedo was 
invented by David Bushnell of Connecti- 
cut, who in 1776 attempted unsuccess- 
fully to blow up the British warship 
Eagle in New York harbor with a torpedo 
attached to a hand-propelled submarine. 
In 1801 Fulton, attempting to interest 
Napoleon in torpedoes, blew up a sloop 
in a British harbor, the first vessel ever 
sunk with a torpedo. Although Fulton 
did not interest Napoleon, the U.S. Navy 
Department became interested in such 
machines for destroying shipping. On 
June 21, 1813, a line of defensive torpe- 
does was laid across the Narrows in New 
York harbor. 

trick. (1) A turn at the helm of a ship; a 
spell; a watch. (2) A sexual act; a beauti- 
ful woman. (3) A round of cards. 

trooper. A soldier in a troop of cavalry; 
a horse ridden by such a soldier. 

troop ship. A ship designed to move in- 
fantry (1862). 

tumbled over. To be killed; to go up. 

turkey shoot. An ambush; an easy kill- 
ing, a term that will be used in all future 
wars for any engagement which tests 
marksmanship rather than courage. Ori- 
ginally, in colonial times, a shoot at live 
turkeys for a fee in which the person hit- 
ting the bird in the head won it. 

• a (j a • 

unborn tadpole. A term of derision 
aimed at the Confederacy by northerners 
at the beginning of the war. Shortly after 
war was declared, a New York Times edi- 
torial said: "Let us make quick work. The 
'rebellion' as some people designate it, is 
an unborn tadpole." 

Unconditional Surrender. A nick- 
name for Ulysses S. Grant, who was the 
first military commander to use the term. 
On February 16, 1862, when Fort Donel- 
son, in Tennessee, was about to fall, he 
was asked for the terms of capitulation 
and he replied, "No terms except uncon- 
ditional surrender." 

up the hawse pipe. To have worked 
one's way up from the enlisted ranks in 
the Navy. It alludes to the passage 
through which anchor cables pass in the 
bow of a ship. 

• it V * * 

vet. One who reenlists; one on his way 
to becoming an old soldier. The official 
U.S. name for those who re-enlisted was 
"veteran-volunteer" and indicated by a 
special chevron worn on the sleeve. 

veteranize. To get out of the Army; to 
enjoy veteran status outside the Army. 

• a VV * * 

War of Rebellion. Name commonly 
used in the North during, and for many 
years after, the war to describe it. Acts 
of Congress directing the compilation of 
official records in 1874 and 1880 re- 
ferred to it by this name. 

war widow. A woman whose husband 
is away at war. 

war will be over by Christmas, 
the. According to Stuart Berg Flexner in 
I Hear America Talking (1976), this was 
a popular 1861 expression. Flexner adds: 
"Since then several generals and politi- 
cians have used the phrase or variations 
on it, in World War I, World War II, and 
the Korean War — and none of the wars 
was over by Christmas." 

we'uns. Us; used in the South. See 

also YOU'UNS. 

worm castle. A hardtack biscuit. 


• * Y * * 

Yank. (1) A Yankee (applied by the Con- 
federates to the soldiers of the Union 
Army); personified in the name "Billy 
Yank" (which had been used as early as 
the Revolutionary War), who was the 
counterpart of johnny reb. By World War 
I, the name was being applied to Ameri- 
cans in general. (2) To cheat; to trick. 

Yankee. (1) A Union soldier; used with 
varying degrees of disparagement by the 
Confederates. Here was how the Yankees 
were regarded in a popular song of the 
South written after the Battle of Bull 
Run, when many in the South felt the 
war was all but over: 

I come from old Manassas with a pocket 
full of fun — 

I killed forty Yankees with a single- 
barrelled gun; 

It don't make a niff-a-stifference to neither 
you or I, 

Big Yankee, little Yankee, all run or die. 

(2) A native or inhabitant of New En- 
gland; by extension, a native or inhabit- 
ant of any of the northern states. (3) Of, 
pertaining to, or characteristic of Yan- 
kees (as in "Yankee shrewdness"). 

The term is of disputed origin; it is 
commonly referred to as a term of un- 
known origin in major dictionaries. 

Young Napoleon. General George 
McClellan, also known as little mac. 

you'uns. You all (before people said 
"you all" in the South). In M. Scheie de 
Vere's Americanisms (1872), a Confeder- 
ate soldier captured by Sheridan's troops 
during the charge through Rockfish Gap 
is credited with this line: "We didn't 
know you-uns was around us all, and we- 
uns reckoned we was all safe, till you- 
uns came ridin' down like mad through 
the gap and scooped up we-uns jest like 
so many herrin'." 

• it Z * * 

Zouave. A member of any of a number 
of dashing volunteer regiments from the 
North whose troops dressed in the color- 
ful and romantic red, baggy-panted uni- 
form of the French Zouaves. 


The Spanish-American War Era 

The Spanish-American War itself lasted for only four months in 1898, but it 
had an extended aftermath — including the American occupation of the Philip- 
pines and Cuba — and the period saw the creation of some fascinating new 
slang. The era was linguistically prophetic because it marked the first time 
that American troops had a chance to absorb foreign languages. As author 
Elbridge Colby wrote in Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of Soldier Speech 
(1943): "[Tell me w]here has the army been, and I'll tell you what some of 
the origins of its speech will be." For starters, this Army was in the Philip- 
pines, from which it brought back terms in both Spanish and Tagalog, such 
as bolo squad, padre (a chaplain), boondocks, and that nasty and longtime 
term of derogation, gook. In his The American Language (1937), H. L. Menck- 
en pointed out that American English borrowed a fistful of foreign words from 
the Spanish-American War, including: "insurrecto, trocha, junta, ladrone, 
incommunicado, ley fuga, machete, manana, and rurale." In The American 
Language, Supplement 1 (1945), Mencken noted that some of these words 
had been used in English before, but that it was the war that had made 
them popular. 

• a A * * 

Asiatic. An odd person; one who acts 
abnormally. Originally it meant a soldier 
or sailor who had gone crazy from too 
much service in the Far East (probably 
the Philippines), but later was applied to 
anyone appearing slightly deranged. 
Asian-Americans and others have long 
regarded this term as a racial slur. 

B * 

backbone. Courage. Theodore Roose- 
velt used the term often and quotably. 
Goading President William McKinley on 
his reluctance to go to war with Spain, 
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt 
said, "McKinley has no more backbone 
than a chocolate Eclair." 

big stick. Military power. President 
Theodore Roosevelt was responsible for 
coining and/or popularizing this term; 
beginning in 1900, he advocated that the 
nation speak softly and carry a big stick. 
It is believed that the first time he uttered 
the phrase in public was at the Minne- 
sota State Fair on September 2, 1901, 
when he said, "There is a homely adage 
which runs, 'Speak softly and carry a big 
stick; you will go far.' " It is worth noting 
that among the many other words and 
phrases coined by Roosevelt was "pre- 
paredness" (as in "military prepared- 
ness"), which he debuted in 1915. 

bolo squad. Bad shots. Soldiers who at 
first show lack of aptitude at rifle marks- 
manship are put in a special group for 
extra training. In Army Talk: A Familiar 
Dictionary of Soldier Speech (1943), by 
Elbridge Colby, this explanation is given 


for the term's origin: "[0]ver in the Phil- 
ippines, in the days of the empire, the 
soldiers had rifles and knew how to use 
them well, but the Filipinos were short 
on rifles, only their best shots had them; 
the others swung bolos. They were 'bolo- 
men' and so a soldier who was not a good 
shot with a rifle was dubbed as no better 
than a mere native boloman." 
See also bolo, under the Vietnam War. 

boodle. Candy, cake, ice cream, etc.; 
originally a term used by West Point ca- 
dets. When it first appeared in America, 
it referred to illegal gain or profit, and 
was long associated with corrupt poli- 
tics. See also under World War II. 

boondocks. A distant, unpopulated 
place; the sticks. The term was first used 
by Marines fighting against Filipino 
guerrillas (during 1899-1902), to refer to 
isolated or outlying mountain country. It 
stems from the Philippine Tagalog bun- 
dok ("mountain"). 

American troops shortened "boon- 
docks" to boonies during the Vietnam 
War; combat boots have long been nick- 
named "boondockers." 

boot. A Navy or Marine recruit. The 
term is thought to come from the leg- 
gings that newly recruited sailors used to 
wear during training, which were called 
"boots." (Since colonial days, Americans 
had used "boot" to mean footwear reach- 
ing to the knee.) See also under World 
War I. 

boot camp. Training camp for new re- 
cruits. This term was first heard during 
the war and was all but universally ac- 
cepted by World War I. 

bull's eye. To make a hit; to score a 
success. To make a bull's-eye is to score 
a hit in the center spot of a target. The 
term first appeared in print with this 
meaning in the New York Herald, on Au- 
gust 1, 1888; but earlier meanings of 
"bull's-eye" included a small piece of 
hard candy and a small piece of glass 
inserted in a wall or a ship's deck to let 
in light. 

bust. To reduce in rank; to break. 

• * c ft * 

canteen. A liquor store on a military 
base. Congress banned canteens on 
January 9, 1901, but Secretary of War 
Elihu Root opposed the ban and sug- 
gested that young men should be allowed 
to consume liquor in a friendly and be- 
nign environment lest they be driven 
"out into the horrible and demoralizing 
and damning surroundings that cluster 
around the outside of the camps." This 
meaning of the word, from the French 
cantine ("bottle case"), followed the Brit- 
ish use of the term to refer to a flask for 
carrying liquids. 

Cuban War, the. One of the popular 
names for the war while it was being 
fought. It was also known as the "War 
with Spain." 

• *[)** 

destroyer. A type of warship. It was a 
new American term, first used in 1898 
in reference to the Farragut. 


dog. A hardtack dish (see under the 
Civil War) described and explored in an 
article by W. J. Henderson in the Septem- 
ber 1899 Scribner's Magazine: 

The United States Navy allows 30 cents 
a day for the rations of each man, and it is 
the problem of the paymaster and cook to 
keep him alive and well on this allowance. 
It seems liberal, however, relatively at least, 
when compared with the merchant-service 
allowance of only 10 cents a day. The mer- 
chantman's cook has a simple menu card 
displaying only the composition known as 
"dog." "Dog" is most largely hard-tack, put 
to soak overnight until it becomes sort of a 
pulp, mixed with molasses into a mush, 
and then fried. The man-of-war's man is 
saved from the necessity of eating "dog" 
some thirty days out of the month, but 
there are some analogies to it which must 
be achieved by the cook in order to eke out 
on this 30 cents a day. 

* * E * * 

embalmed beef. Pickled beef. Teddy 
Roosevelt testified to its nastiness when 
he stated that only one tenth of the beef 
arriving in Cuba for American troops 
was fit for human consumption. Many 
soldiers became sick because of em- 
balmed beef, which led to a major court 
of inquiry that, despite graphic and often 
disgusting testimony, was unable to 
prove anyone guilty. In summarizing the 
case, Medical Record strongly suggested 
that the inquiry showed evidence of a 

One of the more interesting moments 
in the proceedings of the court of inquiry 
came when a regimental commissary 
sergeant testified that he had attempted 
to turn down a beef shipment that both 
looked and smelled bad. The packer's 

agent told him not to worry, that the 
meat had been treated with "preserva- 
tine," a special chemical that preserved 
but did not hurt the beef. 

• a F a • 

Filipino. (1) A native of the Philippines. 
(2) Someone running against a regularly 
nominated candidate for office. The term 
came into use during the time when the 
Filipinos, as H. L. Mencken put it in The 
American Language (1937), "were in 
armed revolt against their first salvation 
by the United States." 

• * 

* • 

gain ground. To make progress; to gain 
headway; to secure the advantage. 

goo-goo / gu-gu. A Filipino. The term 
is probably the basis — certainly part of 
the basis — for gook. 

gook. A derogatory term for certain 
foreigners encountered by American 
troops. It was first used in reference to 
Filipinos, but it has survived to show 
up in other wars, especially those in 
Korea and Vietnam. In The American 
Language, Supplement 1 (1945), H. L. 
Mencken reports: "The Marines who oc- 
cupied Nicaragua in 1912 took to calling 
the natives gooks, one of their names 
for Filipinos." 

In Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase 
Origins (1987), Robert Hendrickson 
holds that the evolution of the term was 
aided by the Korean kuk ("nationality"; 


pronounced "kook") and by the slang 
term "gook" (rhymes with "book"), 
meaning "slime" or "dirt," which, Hen- 
drickson points out, is a blend term 
("goo" + "muck"). 

• a H * * 

hard as the hobs of hell. Said of 
hardtack biscuits (see under the Civil 
War). The hob alluded to in this expres- 
sion is the projection inside a fireplace 
on which food can be rested to keep 

• t* | 

insurrecto. An insurrectionist. Stuart 
Berg Flexner wrote of this term in I Hear 
America Talking (1976): 

Soon after the U.S. occupation of the 
Philippines began, the Filipino guerrillas 
who had fought Spain for independence 
began to fight us, with each side using 
about 70,000 men. We now called the "un- 
grateful" Filipino guerrillas under Emilio 
Aguinaldo insurrectos and put many Fili- 
pinos in relocation camps (which were 
somewhat more humane than the Cuban 
reconcentration camps that had helped 
start the Spanish-American War in the 
first place). 

• -tt K * 

khaki. The color of and name for the 
summer uniform of American soldiers; 
from the Hindi khaki ("dust-colored"). 
Like so many terms of this war, this one 
was tied to Theodore Roosevelt. His 
rough riders, officially the 1st U.S. Vol- 

unteer Cavalry regiments in the war in 
1898, are credited with having intro- 
duced the dust-colored cotton cloth into 
our Army, while the regulars, as Roose- 
velt said, were "dressed in heavy blue 
woolen uniforms and catapulted into a 
midsummer campaign in the tropics." 
The term was new only to America at 
this point. It was reported during the In- 
dian Mutiny, says Elbridge Colby in 
Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of 
Soldier Speech (1943): 

A provisional force of volunteer civilians 
and unattached officers, formed at Mirath, 
was called "the Khaki Force" from the 
color of the uniform they adopted, "khaki" 
being in Persian actually "dusty." The first 
British regiment to wear clothing of this 
color is said to have been the 52nd Infantry 
who dyed their white uniforms a mud 
color before leaving for the front where 
they went into battle at Trimmu Ghat, on 
July 12, 1857. It was first used generally by 
British troops who went out from India for 
the Boer War. 

little brown brother. A term used by 
William Howard Taft, governor-general 
of the Philippines, to invoke America's 
obligation to the people of the Philip- 
pines and other occupied areas. It was 
America's version of Rudyard Kipling's 
poetic injunction to "Take up the White 
Man's burden" (see white man's burden). 
Not all Americans occupying the Philip- 
pines were quite as enthusiastic about 
the idea as Taft. The common line among 
the troops was: 

He may be a brother of Big Bill Taft; 
But he ain't no brother of mine. 


tfr P * • 

padre. A chaplain. In the Philippines, 
troops began calling the regimental 
chaplain "padre" — Spanish for "father" 
— because that was the way the Spanish- 
speaking natives spoke of their village 

police. To clean up an area. First re- 
corded in 1893, the verb may be a cor- 
ruption of "polish." By the time of World 
War I it had become part of the construc- 

puttee. A long strip of cloth wound spi- 
rally around the leg from ankle to knee 
by soldiers and sailors, as a protection or 
support. The term and the object came 
into being in 1886. 

Clinton A. Sanders and Joseph W. 
Blackwell, Jr., in Words of the Fighting 
Forces (1942), wrote: 

Many readers, and esp. enlisted men of 
World War I, who used to struggle at every 
reveille to encase their shanks in regulation 
spiral puttees, will find it hard to believe 
that the pronunciation "put-TEE" has no 
sanction. The accent, says the dictionaries, 
should be placed on the first syllable, not 
the second. Puttee is the Anglicized form 
of the Hindu word "patti," meaning "ban- 
dage." Puttee should be pronounced ex- 
actly like the word putty, say: PUTT-ee. 
Also recalled as "wrapped leggings," or 
"wrapped leggin's." 

• * R iflr • 

Remember the Maine. A slogan of the 
Spanish-American War, prompted by the 
sinking of the Maine in Havana harbor. 
Stuart Berg Flexner pointed out that the 
real motto, uttered by the red-blooded, 

was, "Remember the Maine — the hell 
with Spain!" 

The slogan would be echoed in "Re- 
member Pearl Harbor!" of World War II. 

Rough Rider. A member of a volunteer 
regiment of cavalry, composed partly of 
western cowboys, organized by Theo- 
dore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood for 
service in the war. The term is a syn- 
onym for "cowboy" and was coined in an 
1888 article by Roosevelt in The Century 
Magazine. The notion of the cowboy- 
soldier exemplified by "Rough Rider" is 
an old American tradition. Elbridge 
Colby wrote in Army Talk: A Familiar 
Dictionary of Soldier Speech (1943): 

The use of the word "cowboys" started 
among fighting men, drifted into civil life, 
and has come back home again in a new 
sense. During the Revolution, it was the ti- 
tle given to a group of Tory guerillas who 
roamed the region between the lines in 
Westchester County, and you can find it in 
many writings of that time and books 
about that time. 

* * § * * 

sharpshooter. An expert marksman. 
The term acquired a new meaning at this 
time, which differed from its general 
Civil War meaning of one skilled with a 
rifle. According to Elbridge Colby in 
Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of Sol- 
dier Speech (1943), it was: "A rating, just 
above that of 'marksman' and just below 
that of 'expert,' secured by a soldier who 
demonstrates a prescribed accuracy with 
the rifle by actual performance on the 

This system was established as a for- 
mal qualification in the Army by General 


Order 12, dated February 20, 1884, and 
was in place by the time of the war. 

shavetail. A newly commissioned lieu- 
tenant or an inexperienced officer, begin- 
ning with this war. Here is how the term 
was discussed in the official Words of the 
Fighting Forces (1942), by Clinton A. 
Sanders and Joseph W. Blackwell, Jr.: 

The green second lieutenant emerging 
out of West Point in his well-pressed uni- 
form has been given this colorful name by 
the privates in the rank and file. Ironically 
enough, the term can trace its origin back 
to the army mule. The word was first used 
to designate the green, unbroken mules 
purchased by the Army. Since the mule- 
dealer shaved the animal's tail, leaving 
only a tuft of hair hanging at the end, the 
mule was called a "shavetail." It was no 
great tax on the private's imagination to 
call a young, green officer a "shavetail." 
The use of the word has been extended 
lately, however, to include young officials 
in the industrial world. 

See also under World War I. 

Soapsuds Row. Married quarters (by 
the time of the war and thereafter). The 
term was sometimes applied with a de- 
gree of irony. In Leonard Mosley's Mar- 
shall: A Hero for Our Times (1982), a 
slummy married quarters in the Okla- 
homa Territory in 1903 is described as 
an area of filth and unkempt streets: 
"The quarter was known as Soapsuds 
Row, but soap was the last thing that was 
used around it." 

white man's burden. A term created 
by British writer Rudyard Kipling in a 
1899 poem that began: 

Take up the White Man's burden, 
Send forth the best ye breed . . . 
To wait in heavy harness, 
On fluttering folk and wild — 
Your new-caught sullen peoples, 
Half devil and half child. 

According to Mark Sullivan in Our 
Times: The Turn of the Century (1936), 
the poem was "taken as being addressed 
partly to America in its adventures in 
the Philippines, and partly to Kipling's 
own country and its attempt to master 
the Boers." The phrase "white man's bur- 
den" became common shorthand for 
American imperialism. 

W.M.B. Impaled 

Not every American was willing to take 
up Kipling's charge. When politician 
Richard Croker was asked for his defini- 
tion of the term, he said, "My idea of 
anti-imperialism is opposition to the 
fashion of shooting everybody who 
doesn't speak English." 

The following bit of counter-poetry 
showed up in The New York Times, which 
recast Kipling from the point of view of 
those being taken on as a burden: 

Take up the White Man's burden, 

Send forth your sturdy sons, 

And load them down with whiskey 

And Testaments and guns. 

Throw in a few diseases 

To spread in tropic climes . . . 

w * 

War with Spain, the. A popular name 
for the war while it was being fought; 
also called "the Cuban War." 



yellow. In 1898, this word appeared in 
a new context: the press. It showed up in 

such terms as "yellow journalism" and 
"the yellow press." It was used to deplore 
those newspapers — specifically, the New 
York Journal, owned by William Ran- 
dolph Hearst, and the New York World, 
owned by Joseph Pulitzer — which were 
sensationalizing Spanish actions in 
Cuba, calling them atrocities and fanning 
the flames of war. As several leading 
etymologists have shown (Stuart Berg 


Flexner and Robert Hendrickson, for ex- 
ample), the word "yellow" had been as- 
sociated with sensationalism for many 
years and had nothing to do with Rich- 
ard Outcault's pioneering comic strip, 
"The Yellow Kid," which appeared in 
both newspapers during the period. 

yellow jack. Yellow fever. 



Catton, Bruce. Glory Road. New York: Dolphin, 1952. 

. Mr. Lincoln's Army. New York: Dolphin, 1951. 

. Stillness at Appomattox. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1954. 

Catton, William, and Bruce Catton. Two Roads to Sumter. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963. 
Chapman, Bruce. Why Do We Say Such Things? The Stories Behind the Words We Use. New 

York: Miles-Emmett, 1947. 
Colby, Elbridge. Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of Soldier Speech. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 

University Press, 1943. 
Davis, Burke. The Long Surrender. New York: Random House, 1985. 
Elting, John R., and Cragg and Ernest Deal. A Dictionary of Soldier Talk. New York: 

Scribners, 1984. 
Flexner, Stuart Berg. I Hear America Talking. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976. 
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War. New York: Vintage, 1958 

Hendrickson, Robert. Encyclopedia of World and Phrase Origin. New York: Facts on File, 1987. 
Holt, Alfred H. Phrase and Word Origins. New York: Dover, 1961. 
Leech, Margaret. In the Days of McKinley. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959. 
Lyman, Darryl. The Animal Things We Say. New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 1983. 
McAlpine, R. W. "A Word about Slang." United States Service Magazine (June 1865). 
McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 
Melville, Herman. White-Jacket, or, The World in a Man-of-War. New York: 1850. 
Mencken, H. L. The American Language. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937. 

. The American Language, Supplement 1. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945. 

. The American Language, Supplement 2. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948. 

Rogers, John G. Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1985. 


Sanders, Clinton A., and Joseph W. Blackwell, Jr. Words of the Fighting Forces. New York 

Military Intelligence Service, 1942. 
Schemmer, Benjamin. Almanac of Liberty. New York: Macmillan, 1974. 
Small, Maj. Abner R. The Road to Richmond. University of California, 1939. 
Sullivan, Mark. Our Times: The Turn of the Century. New York: Scribner's, 1936. 
Trumbull, H. Clay. War Memories of an Army Chaplin. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898. 
Wood, William, and Ralph Henry Gabriel. In Defense of Liberty. New Haven, Conn.: Yale 

University Press, 1928. 
Worsham, John H. One of Jackson's Foot Cavalry. New York: Neale Publishing Co., 1912. 





Terms That Came Ud from the Trenches; Down from the 



World War I: Doughboys Over There 

The Army meant another way of life, and a new language arose to express 
and picture it. By reviving old terms, by borrowing or inventing new ones, 
the soldier formed a special and racy vocabulary which he spoke with a 
professional flair. 

— Mark Sullivan, Our Times: The United States, 1900-1925, 
Vol. V, Over Here, 1914-1918 (1933) 

American war slang came into its own during World War I, with terms grow- 
ing like mushrooms in the dank trenches from the linguistic spores of earlier 
wars. It mocked German and — kaput! — rendered it ersatz. It grabbed hold of 
French and turned it into the language of comic opera. Esprit de corps became 
ESPRiTT de corpse; je ne sais pas came out as jennvs pa or jenny SASS PASS; 
and the town of Doingt, France, was renamed doing it for the duration. 

The American slang of World War I was also very much tied to British 
war slang, as it had been during the American Revolution. The two armies 
fought together in World War I, and it was the American sammy who joined 


the war after the British — in the person of tommy atkins, the British every- 
private — were well entrenched in their trenches. 

Some claims were made that American trench lingo was supplanting the 
British, but the claims were not convincing. Here is one journalist's attempt 
to report on the emerging American slang: 

With the American Armies in France, September 17 — "Zero hour" and "over the 
top" are expressions which have passed from the American Army after long popu- 
larity with the British. 

America's attack in the Lorraine sector has brought out typical American ex- 

"Over the top" is now "the jump off" and "zero hour" has changed to "H 

—Baltimore Star (September 17, 1918) 

American linguistic innovation was significant enough to have a major 
impact on the way the British soldier spoke, but not enough to overwhelm it. 
Americans said over the top for the duration, and they did send the British 
home with a headful of Americanisms. 

Aviation was a new and important factor in the war, and aviators from the 
two English-speaking nations seemed to vie with each other to see who could 
come up with the most colorful way of minimizing the risks of the business 
they were in. 

There were linguistic changes and ironies everywhere, even in the busi- 
ness of numbers. The following appeared in an Associated Press dispatch of 
March 11, 1919: 

The consideration of reparations has introduced the word "trillion" in recog- 
nizing money, probably for the first time in any single financial operation, for, 
although millions and billions often have been used in war finance, no sum has 
yet been reached touching a trillion. In estimating the war losses of all the powers 
the first figures of one of the great powers aggregated a trillion francs and those 
of another power were slightly above a half trillion francs, namely, six hundred 
billion francs. 

Many of the terms had staying power, surviving to World War II and be- 
yond. In his book Up Front (1945), Bill Mauldin compares a German and an 
American soldier in World War II, in a line that could easily have come from 
World War I: "Both had cooties, both had trench foot, and each had an intense 
dislike for the other." 

Here then is a large helping of the American slang of the doughboy. 

a A * * 

A.B.C. powers, the. The South Ameri- 
can republics of Argentina, Brazil, and 
Chile, which entered into a peace treaty 
with each other in 1915. 

ace. A combatant aviator who has 
brought down five or more enemy air- 
craft, or as James R. McConnell put it in 
Flying for France (1916): "When a pilot 
has accounted for five Boches he is men- 
tioned by name in the official communi- 
cation, and is spoken of as an Ace,' 
which in French aerial slang means a 
super-pilot. Papers are allowed to call an 
'ace' by name, print his picture, and give 
him a write-up. The successful aviator 
becomes a national hero." 

ace of aces. An ace who brought down 
or killed twenty-five or more enemy air- 
craft. Here is a newspaper account of one 
such ace of aces: 

Paris, November 16 — Six new victories 
over German airplanes were gained during 
the late fighting in the Aisne region by 
Lieut. Rene Fonck, ace of aces of all the 
belligerent powers, with 75 airplanes offi- 
cially destroyed, plus 40 probable vic- 

— Paul Ayres Rockwell, the Baltimore 
Evening Sun (November 16, 1918) 

Ace of Diamonds Division. The U.S. 
5th Division; its insignia was a red ace of 
diamonds. See also red diamond division. 

aces up. A squadron of expert fighter 

Acorn Division. The 87th Division, 
composed of men from Arkansas, Missis- 
sippi, and Louisiana; its insignia was a 
brown acorn on a green disk. 


acting jack. A temporary sergeant. 

A.E.F. American Expeditionary Forces. 
It was said by many Americans to have 
stood for "after England failed." 

aggie. The adjutant general; primarily 
officer slang. 

ah-ah treatment. An examination for 
a sore throat, from the noise made after 
a tongue depressor went into a soldier's 

airnat. An airman. The word is said to 
have been formed from "aeronaut" and 
to have been adopted by balloting of the 
flying corps of the U.S. Army. According 
to Eugene S. McCartney in Slang and Idi- 
oms of the World War (1929): "The word 
was utterly lacking in spontaneity and 
does not seem to have obtained any 

Alamo Division. The 90th Division, 
composed of Texas and Oklahoma 
troops. The name is very appropriate, 
since the division trained at Camp 
Travis, just outside San Antonio. Its in- 
signia was a red monogrammed to. 

Ail-American Division. The 82nd Di- 
vision, composed largely of troops from 
Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. It was 
said to owe its name to the fact that 
nearly every state in the Union was rep- 
resented in its membership. Its insignia 
was the letters aa in gold on a blue field, 
which in turn was set upon a red square. 

alio. (1) A radio notice that a U-boat has 
been seen. (2) A rendering of "hello." 

all's quiet on the western front. Tran- 
quillity prevails, save for the normal 


daily attrition in the trenches. A phrase 
coined by an unknown, ingenious news- 
paper man "somewhere in France" in 
1915. With irony and bitterness, Erich 
Maria Remarque titled his 1929 war 
novel All Quiet on the Western Front be- 
cause men were still dying while the cli- 
ch6d quietness was in effect. 

amalgam. A section of front where 
American and French troops mingled. 

America first. A motto alluding to 
American glory and America's place in 
the world; proclaimed by Woodrow Wil- 
son in a speech on April 20, 1915. 

American pony. A Missouri mule; 
named with a tip of the hat to the Shet- 
land pony. 

ammo. Ammunition. 

ammunition. Pies and pastry, as doled 
out by the Salvation Army. 

A.M.T. landing. An expression used at 
Kelly Field, Texas, to designate an air- 
plane landing of such a character that the 
airman needed the services of an ambu- 
lance, motorcycle, or truck (hence 
A.M.T.) to convey him to a hospital. 

Anzac. Australian and New Zealand 
Army Corps. It was reportedly first used 
in a telegram sent by General William 
Birdwood from the Gallipoli Peninsula 
during the summer of 1915. One account 
says that publicity was given to the word 
by Major Oliver Hogue of Sydney, who 
used it as a code word in dispatches to 
the Sydney Morning Herald. The term 
continued to be used in World War II. 


One of the earliest recorded acronyms, 
if not the earliest, is VAMP. It was redis- 
covered by William and Mary Morris 
and reported in their Morris Dictionary of 
Word and Phrase Origins (1977). It dates 
back to the midnineteenth century, 
when it was used in fire-fighting circles 
to refer to the Voluntary Association of 
Master Pumpers. Prior to the Morrises' 
revelation, it had been broadly con- 
cluded that the earliest English acronym 
was anzac. In any event, Anzac had at 
least one other World War I antecedent 
in the British FANY (First Aid Nursing 

apartment. A dugout. 

aprons. Wire obstacles against air- 
planes. They were described in The Lon- 
don Illustrated News of December 14, 

Wires suspended from balloons at such 
intervals as to prevent big airplanes from 
getting through; nets formed by kite- 
balloons, each a certain distance from the 
next, each connected to the next by a hori- 
zontal wire-cable, and each horizontal ca- 
ble carrying suspended from it at intervals 
some thousands of feet of fine wire, each 
with a plumb-bob at the end. 

Archie. An antiaircraft gun. 

argue the toss. To argue a point; from 
the practice of flipping (or tossing) a coin 
to settle an argument. 

Army game. This term was defined by 
Mark Sullivan in Our Times, Vol. V, Over 
Here (1933): "The 'old Army Game,' 
hoary with age and tradition, is to 'pass 
the buck.'" 


arrival. The sound made by an ap- 
proaching shell. This term was denned 
by E. F. Wood in The Note-Book of an 
Intelligence Officer (1917): "One first 
dimly hears the far-off rush of the shell 
as it approaches, rising in crescendo to 
a scream and finally terminating by the 
roar of the burst. This is called an 'ar- 

artillery. Beans. 

ash can. A large German shell. 

assault ration. A tablespoonful of rum 
given to the men in the early morning 
just before an assault. 

attaboy. (1) An American soldier. The 
term stems from a cry of approval of the 
time— "That's the boy!" or "That's the 
stuff, boy" — and was applied to soldiers, 
especially by the British. (2) A cry of en- 
couragement for Americans. The French 
used it approvingly in cheering General 
John J. ("Black Jack") Pershing and his 

Attaboy Special. The train that ran be- 
tween Chaumont and Tours. 

A.W.O.L. Absent without official leave. 
Journalist Mark Sullivan marks this war 
as the debut of this term, in Our Times, 
Vol. V, Over Here (1933), with this defi- 
nition: "Said of a man who believes that 
nine days at home is worth six months 
pay." Many others saw the term as a ver- 
bal novelty, especially since it was a set 
of initials that could be pronounced 
"a-wall" — but it is clearly a term that had 
been used by both sides in the U.S. Civil 
War and was common in World War I. 

What apears to have been new was saying 
a-wall rather than A.W.O.L. 

axle grease. Butter. 

* ir B * * 

baby elephant. 

iron shelter. 

A small corrugated- 

balmy. Nervous; afraid. This word was 
used in thieves' cant of more than a gen- 
eration before, in the sense of "mad." 

bantam. A short or small man, affec- 
tionately. The British actually boasted of 
their Bantam Division, composed of men 
under the minimum army height of five 
feet three inches. 

bantam doughboy. An American who 
fell under the regulation height but was 
nonetheless allowed to enter the service. 

baptism of fire. An individual's or a 
unit's first engagement with the enemy. 

barbed-wire disease. A nervous break- 
down brought about by imprisonment. 
According to The New York Times of 
May 27, 1918: 

Turkish officials that have heard the ex- 
pression translate it literally. Wherefore the 
Turkish government, in ratifying an agree- 
ment with the British for an exchange of 
prisoners, stipulated that plain wire 
should be substituted for barbed wire 
around prison camps for Turks in English 

barbwire garters. A mythical award 
for those who got no special honors or 


decorations; perhaps a play on the Brit- 
ish Order of the Garter. 

barndook. A gun; a rifle. The rifle was 
called also "bundook" and "bondook." 
These are apparently intermediate stages 
between "barndook" and banduc, a 
Hindi word for "gun" that was familiar 
to the British soldier in India. The nick- 
name "barndook" was used in both Brit- 
ish and American armies before the war 
and by both armies in the trenches. In 
1991, during the Persian Gulf War, it was 
used by the British troops and reported 
widely as a Briticism. 

barn door. Hello; good day. The term is 
a play on the French bon/our. 

baron. An Army commander. 

barrel. A stunt of the airman, which 
consists of rolling the airplane over and 
over like a barrel. A scientific explana- 
tion is given in The Scientific American 
of September 7, 1918: 

This is usually started by slightly reduc- 
ing the speed of the engine, pulling the 
control stick well towards the pilot, and 
giving a very quick push at the rudder — to 
the full extent, in fact — and at once replac- 
ing all controls in the center. The machine 
starts to mount suddenly, but the full effect 
of the rudder swings the machine up on 
one wing, over completely sideways, which 
follows with a wing slip and a flattening 

bashed in. Smashed in by a shell. 

opinion that there were many of them — 
but their existence was denied by the 
government. In 1939, Dalton Trumbo's 
harrowing novel about a basket case, 
Johnny Got His Gun, kept the idea alive. 
Today it is used to describe mental dis- 
tress — "I was falling apart ... A real bas- 
ket case." 

Basket Cases — The Official 

The War Department authorizes the fol- 
lowing statement from the office of the 
Surgeon General: 

The Surgeon General of the Army, 
Maj. Gen. AAerritte W. Ireland, denies 
emphatically that there is any founda- 
tion for the stories that have been circu- 
lated in all parts of the country of the 
existence of "basket cases" in our hospi- 
tals. A basket case is a soldier who has 
lost both legs and both arms and there- 
fore cannot be carried on a stretcher. 

Gen. Ireland says: "I have personally 
examined the records and am able to 
say that there is not a single basket case 
either on this side of the water or among 
the soldiers of the A.E.F. Further, I wish 
to emphasize that there has been no 
instance of an American soldier so 
wounded during the whole period of 
the war." 

—Official U.S. Bulletin, 
Washington, D.C. (March 28, 

bayonet. A soldier. Soldiers were also 
sometimes called "thinking bayonets." 
See also under the Civil War. 

basket case. A soldier who had lost all 
four limbs and was brought home as a 
living head and torso in a basket. There 
were countless unofficial reports of such 
cases — and many soldiers were of the 

beachcomber. A tramp or bum who 
hung around saloons and begged sailors 
for money or drinks. 

beak cover. Gas mask. 


beans. (1) A commissary sergeant. (2) 

bean shooter. A commissary officer. 

bean tote. Soon; from the French 

Beef Villas. Biefvillers, France. 

belly robber. A Navy commissary 
steward dr paymaster whom the crew be- 
lieved to be robbing them of decent vit- 
tles. It is an old term, dating back at least 
to the Civil War. 

Bertha. See Big Bertha. 

Bertha pill. A large German shell, such 
as that fired by Big Bertha. 

Best of luck and God bless you. A 

parting salutation to men going over 


Betsy the Sniper. A nickname for the 
155-mm cannon manned by the Ameri- 
cans. According to the May 13, 1919, is- 
sue of Literary Digest: "She won her first 
fame in the Toul sector by being the for- 
ward gun of our lines. Not merely was 
she farthest north, but she scorned the 
steady brand of firing that most guns of 
her class indulged in. She went in for 
emergency sharp-shooting. It was thus 
that she won the sobriquet of 'sniper.'" 

Bevo officer. A new officer; an officer 
who has not gone through West Point. 
Bevo was one of the new drinks, a near- 

Big Bertha. (1) A large siege gun used 
by the German army in shelling Paris. It 

was a mammoth rifle-cannon with 
which the Germans shelled the city from 
a distance of up to nine miles. (2) By ex- 
tension, a big or fat woman. 

The name alludes to Bertha Antoinette 
Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, at 
whose factory the gun was manufac- 
tured. She was sole heir to the Krupp ar- 
maments empire. 

Big Bill / Big Willie. Kaiser Wilhelm II 
of Germany, who was seen as the person 
most responsible for the war and the re- 
sulting sacrifice of millions of lives. 

big bow-wow. A regimental sergeant- 

big boy. A large gun, generally of an 
eight-inch bore or more. 

Big Five, the. The leading nations at 
the Paris peace conference of 1919: Great 
Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the 
United States. 

Big Lizzie. The ocean liner Queen 
Elizabeth; so-called by the Anzac troops 
at Gallipoli. 

Big Push, the / Big Show, the. Any 

major engagement, but usually used to 
refer to the battle of the Somme (1916). 

big stuff. Large shells (eight inches or 

big ticket. An honorable discharge; a 
Navy term. A small ticket was a dishon- 
orable discharge. 

Bill. See big bill. 

Billard. No-man's-land. 


Bing boy. A Canadian soldier; in recog- 
nition of Sir Julian Byng, who took com- 
mand of the Canadian forces, and after 
the popular musical comedy The Bing 

Dinged. Vaccinated. A "bing spot" was 
a vaccination mark. 

bite and hold. A strategy by which the 
enemy is forced to consolidate its de- 
fenses and required to undertake costly 

bitter ender. One who was opposed to 
any terms of peace other than the total 
defeat of the Central Powers. The term 
came into wide use in this war, but it 
was used as early as the Civil War (to 
describe those who wanted to fight the 
South to the bitter end) and as late as 
the Vietnam War (to describe those who 
carried the conflict to the bitter end]. 

black boat. A destroyer or a torpedo- 
boat destroyer. 

blackey. A blacksmith. 

black gang. A ship's engineers' divi- 
sion, whose work covered its members 
with grease, oil, and grime. According to 
Logan E. Ruggles in The Navy Explained 
(1910): "Men of the firerooms, engine 
rooms, ice machine, evaporators, and 
every man in the department are mem- 
bers of the gang." See also under the 
Civil War. 

Black Hawk Division. The 86th Divi- 
sion, composed of troops recruited from 
northern Illinois. "So named," according 
to Eugene S. McCartney in Slang and Idi- 
oms of the World War (1929), "because 

its forces mobilized on the 'Black Hawk 
Trail' at Camp Grant, near Rockford, 111., 
and adopted as their battle-cry the war- 
whoop 'Ki-a-ki-ak' of a Black Hawk 
chief." Its insignia was a small mono- 
grammed b.h. on a red shield superim- 
posed on a black hawk, and the whole 
superimposed on a red shield. 

black jack. (1) A strong physic, gener- 
ally jollop. (2) Coffee. (3) The nickname 
for General John ("Black Jack") Pershing, 
the American commander in chief, 

black Maria. A high-explosive shell; 
from the slang name for English police- 
patrol wagons. The following theory ap- 
peared in the Detroit Free Press on June 
14, 1925: "One explanation is that a ne- 
gress called Maria formerly kept a sail- 
ors' boarding house in Boston. She was 
a bit of a terror, and ruled her lodgers 
with an iron hand. Finally she became 
so famous that in moments of stress the 
Boston police gasped: 'Send for Black 

black pill. A German shell that emitted 
black smoke on exploding. 

black strap. Coffee. 

blimp. A dirigible balloon from which 
a cabin shaped like an airplane fuselage 
is suspended. Blimps were developed by 
the British. The word was applied to 
small airships and large women as well. 

Blimp — A Disputed Word 

There was much speculation as to where 
the term "blimp" came from. For in- 


stance: "blimp. The captive observation 
balloon rejoices in the above appella- 
tion for reasons known only to the lads 
who use them over there" (from the Bal- 
timore Sun, September 29, 1918). The 
following passage from Words of the 
Fighting Forces (1942), by Clinton A. 
Sanders and Joseph W. Blackwell, Jr., 
offers a plausible explanation.- "During 
World War I the British non-rigid airship 
was known as the type B-limp airship. 
The British soldier dropped the hyphen 
and christened the ship 'blimp' and the 
term was later adopted by the United 
States Armed Forces." 

Doubt is cast on this and other theo- 
ries by Robert Hendrickson, in his Ency- 
clopedia of Word and Phrase Origins 
(1987). He starts by shooting down a 
theory advanced by H. L. Mencken, 
which held that the term was created by 
two Britishers while they were having 
"blunch" (or "brunch," as it is called in 
America) at an airport. Hendrickson 

Nor was the nonrigid dirigible airship 
so named by its manufacturer, the 
Goodyear Company in the early years 
of World War I. It is often reported that 
Goodyear's first model, the "A limp" 
(nonrigid), hadn't worked and that their 
second model, the "B limp," succeeded 
and kept its name, but Goodyear has 
denied that they or anyone else had air- 
ships with "limp" or type "B" designa- 

Hendrickson's belief is that all of this 
leaves us with the possibility that the 
word is onomatopoeic, possibly coined 
by a Lieutenant Cunningham of the Brit- 
ish Royal Navy Air Service in 1915. 
"Cunningham, according to this story," 
writes Hendrickson, "flicked his thumb 
at one of the airships while on an in- 
spection tour and 'an odd noise echoed 
off the taut fabric. . . . [He] orally imi- 
tated the sound his thumb had 
drummed out of the airship bag: 
'Blimp!' Those nearby saw and heard 
this unusual interlude in the inspection, 
and its account quickly spread." 

blind. (1) Sentenced by court-martial 
to forfeiture of pay without confinement. 
(2) A dud (a shell that fails to explode). 

blind pig. A huge shell from a trench 

blister-skin. A broad shelf at the water- 
line of a British monitor, rendering the 
vessel torpedo-proof. The device was il- 
lustrated in Collier's (April 5, 1919, 
page 15). 

blooded. Describing an individual or 
unit that had seen combat. 

Blue and Gray Division. The 29th 
National Guard Division, composed of 
men from Delaware, the District of Co- 
lumbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and 
Virginia. As explained by Eugene S. 
McCartney, in his Slang and Idioms of 
the World War (1929): "[OJbviously so 
named because the men came from states 
that fought on different sides in the Civil 
War." Its insignia was a blue and gray 
pierced disk, symbolizing the union of 
North and South. The insignia is said to 
have been taken from the Korean symbol 
meaning "good luck." 

blue boy. A French soldier; so-called 
because of the color of the dashing blue 

blue funk squad. A firing squad, the 
duty of which was to execute those guilty 
of cowardice. The term "blue funk" has 
long been slang for a state of depression. 

Blue Ridge Division. The 80th Divi- 
sion, composed of men from Pennsylva- 
nia, Virginia, and West Virginia; also 
called the lee division. Its insignia was 


three blue mountains on a shield edged 
with white, each mountain representing 
a state. 

blue triangle. The nickname for the 
symbol of the Young Men's Christian As- 
sociation (Y.M.C.A.). 

boat-tailing. Describing the shape of 
shells. The term was explained in Every- 
body's magazine (July 1919): 

Modern long-range shells are cigar- 
shaped. They taper both at the front and at 
the rear. This tapering of the rear is called 
"boat-tailing." You have noticed that racing 
automobiles have torpedo-shaped sterns. A 
square-tailed shell or automobile is actu- 
ally held back at high speeds because of 
the vacuum created behind it by the veloc- 
ity of its movement. Tapering the tail leads 
the air gently and easily into the hole that 
the shell or the racing car bores in the at- 
mosphere and thus lessens vacuum's im- 
pending grip on the flying object. 

bobtailed. Dishonorably discharged; 
from the practice of removing ("bob- 
bing") the portion of discharge papers 
that confers honor. 

boche. A German, but usually a Ger- 
man soldier; from the French slang ce 
boche ("that chump"), according to a 
study of the term that appeared in the 
April 7, 1916, New York Times. In Words 
of the Fighting Forces (1942), by Clinton 
A. Sanders and Joseph W. Blackwell, Jr., 
it is pointed out that a number of con- 
structions were based on "boche," in- 
cluding "boche army" (the German 
army), "bocheland" (Germany), "boche 
navy" (the German navy), and "boche 
stabber" (bayonet). See also busher. 

boche aspirin. A hand grenade used 
by the German army. 

body snatcher. (1) A sniper at the 
front. (2) A stretcher bearer. 

bokoo. An abundance of anything; 
from the French bectucoup. "Bokoo 
soused" is a term meaning "very drunk." 

bone jar / bone jaw. Hello; from the 
French bonjour. 

bonswar / bonswart. Farewell; from 
the French bonsoir. 

boot. A Navy recruit. The term is de- 
fined in Logan E. Ruggles's The Navy Ex- 
plained (1918): "A young sailor who has 
recently enlisted in the navy; a man who 
is exceedingly wooden in the perform- 
ance of his duties and who is uncouth 
in his habits." The term was also in use 
during the Spanish-American War. 

boot lace. An airman's term used to de- 
scribe a sort of combined spin and roll. 

bosom chums. Vermin. 

bounce. A bad landing, causing the air- 
plane to jump. A bounce was often the 
cause of a crash. 

bouquet. A group or cluster of shells 
or bombs. 

bowlegs. A Cavalryman. See under the 
Civil War. 

B.P. A buck private. Mark Sullivan de- 
fines the term in Our Times, Vol. V, Over 
Here (1933): "A government employee of 
the next grade above civilian who usu- 
ally believes that it is his function to 
avoid all responsibility and to do as little 
work as possible." 


brains. An intelligence officer. 

brain trust. The general staff. 

brass hat. A staff officer. This term was 
borrowed from the British, whose staff 
officers wear gilt on their hats. 

brass looie. A lieutenant. 

brig. A prison; also called a "cage," 
"jug," and "cooler." It is a traditional 
Navy term for a ship's jail, but is now 
used by other branches of the armed ser- 

Broad Arrow Division. The 32nd Di- 
vision, composed of troops from Michi- 
gan and Wisconsin. Its insignia was a red 
arrow, because "they shot through every 

Says The New York Times (May 18, 
1919): "To the army in general it is the 
Thirty-second, to the people of Michigan 
and Wisconsin, it is the Broad Arrow Di- 
vision, while the French will always re- 
member it by the name given to it by the 
poilu [the privates at the front], Les Ter- 

The division was also called the Iron 
Jaw Division, because it was employed 
on both flanks of the Marne salient, and 


broomstick. The control lever of an air- 

bubbly. Champagne. 

buck. A private; a common soldier. 

bucked. Proud or pleased. The term is 
a rare piece of American slang and ap- 
pears to have existed only in this war. 

Buckeye Division. The 37th Division, 
made up exclusively of men from Ohio. 
The nickname was adopted in November 
1917. Its insignia was a red circle super- 
imposed on a white circle, a design 
adapted from the Ohio flag. 

buck private. A term sometimes used 
in speaking of a private. See also b.p. 

buckshee. Free; faked; done surrepti- 
tiously, as in "buckshee pass"; extra; sur- 
plus, as in "buckshee helping"; smart; 
superfine (for example, as regards 
clothes). According to the journal Notes 
and Queries (December 1918): "Buck- 
shee is an Atkinized [Briticized] form of 
an Indian word. Bakhsh is a gift; bakhshi 
is the giver, paymaster; bakhshish is a 
gift, a tip. All these ideas seem to have 
had a hand in making 'buckshee' mean 
something extra." 

buddy. A companion in arms; a chum; 
a nickname given to the American 
fighting man during the war. Mark Sulli- 
van, in Our Times, Vol. V, Over Here 
(1933), notes that after the war the term 
was "taken over into civilian use by hitch- 
hikers and panhandlers." The vets, how- 
ever, held the term in high esteem; the 
name they gave to a paper replica of a 
Flanders poppy on Memorial Day, sold 
to benefit disabled soldiers, was 
"Buddy poppy." 

buddy seat. A motorcycle sidecar. 

Buffalo. A Sopwith airplane designed 
for reconnaissance and contact patrols. 

Buffaloes. Members of the 92nd Divi- 
sion, composed of African-American 
troops from various sections of the coun- 


try. Its insignia was a black buffalo. Ac- 
cording to Eugene S. McCartney in Slang 
and Idioms of the World War (1929): 

It is said that the name goes back to pio- 
neer days when Negro soldiers were called 
upon to aid in suppressing Indian upris- 
ings. The redskins, learning to respect 
them as soldiers, nicknamed them "Buffa- 
loes." The title is inherited from the 367th 
Regiment of the 15th New York (colored) 
Infantry, which was incorporated in the di- 

The color of the buffalo varied ac- 
cording to the arm of the service. 

bull. Small talk; "a mean brand of chat- 
ter." This "bull" was euphemistic for 
"bullshit," and it became general slang 
after the war. 

bullets. Beans. 

bull ring. (1) A training school. The 
term is defined in With Our Soldiers in 
France, by S. Eddy (1917): 

Just before going into the trenches the 
British, French and American troops take 
a final course for a few weeks in a training 
school, where the expert drill masters put 
them through a rigorous discipline, and 
the finishing touches are given to each regi- 
ment. . . . The men commonly call this 
training school, or specially prepared final 
drill ground, the "Bull Ring." 

(2) A "hanging-out" place on many 
large cruisers and battleships. According 
to Logan E. Ruggles, in The Navy Ex- 
plained (1918): "It is situated on the 
main deck forward just under the con- 
ning tower and at the base of the cage 

Bull's-eye Division. The 37th Divi- 
sion, composed of troops from Arkansas, 
Louisiana, and Mississippi. In Slang and 

Idioms of the World War (1929), Eugene 
S. McCartney explains the symbolism of 
its insignia: 

On February 23, 1919, The New York 
Times described the insignia as an inner 
circle of red, a middle one of white, and an 
outer circle of black. The National Geo- 
graphic Magazine for December, 1919, p. 
513, gives the insignia as a delta enclosing 
three small deltas, but says, p. 518, that it 
was never approved by the A.E.F. The in- 
signia was due, of course, to the fact that 
the personnel came from the vicinity of the 
delta of the Mississippi. 

bully beef. Canned corned beef. It is 
described by Arthur Guy Empey in Over 
the Top (1917): "A kind of corned beef 
with tin round it. The unopened cans 
make excellent walls for dugouts." The 
word "bully" meant "fine" or "first-rate" 
and had been borrowed by Americans 
from British slang before the war. 

bumboat. A hawker or peddler aboard 
a Navy ship. The term originally was 
used to describe the scavengers' boats 
that plied the Thames River in London 
in the seventeenth century. 

bumped off. Killed. 

bunk. (1) A bed. (2) To sleep with 
someone. The term had long been used 
to refer to a wooden case or berth. Walter 
W. Skeat, in his Concise Etymological 
Dictionary of the English Language 
(1908), says it is from the old Swedish 
bunke, for the planking of a ship forming 
a shelter for merchandise. 

bunker plates. Hotcakes, flapjacks, and 
pancakes; a Navy term. They were so- 
called because of their resemblance to 
the heavy lids of coal chutes, which were 
also known as bunker plates. 

bunk fatigue. Illness requiring a pa- 
tient to stay in bed. 

bunkie. A sleeping companion. 

bunk lizard. A chronic sleeper. 

Burleson magazines. Periodicals con- 
tributed by the public to the Army and 
Navy and forwarded to the services by 
the Post Office Department. The name 
was derived from the fact that Postmaster 
General Burleson authorized the postal 
force to forward these magazines and pe- 
riodicals under a one-cent stamp. 

busher. A German; from boche. In The 
Doughboys (1963), Laurence Stallings 
says: "Many of the baseball players 
among the French Doughboys simply re- 
ferred to the enemy as 'them bushers.'" 

bust. To reduce a noncommissioned of- 
ficer to the rank of private. 

butcher. A company barber. 

butcher shop. An operating room; a 
surgical department. 

butt. That part of an enlistment still to 
be served; usually, a fraction of a year. 

buzzers. Members of the Army Signal 
Corps; also known as "iddy-umpties." 

buzz wire. A telephone or telegraph 

by Joe. A jewel; from the French bijou 
(a finger ring or other small item of 

• * Q A * 

Cactus Division. The 18th Division, 
which was organized at Camp Travis, 
Texas, in August 1918. Its insignia was 
a cactus, with the Latin motto Noli me 
tangere ("Don't touch me"). 

cadge. To borrow. 

camel. Nickname for the British Sop- 
worth scout airplane because of its 

camel corps. The Infantry. 

camel flags. Camouflage, in a popular 

camouflage. The art of concealment. A 
French slang dictionary says that se ca- 
moufler is thieves' cant, meaning "to 
disguise one's self." The word was em- 
ployed by soldiers and civilians alike to 
indicate any form of concealment. 

Word History — Camouflage's 
American Debut 

Popular writer Will Irwin, reporting in 
the Saturday Evening Post of September 
29, 1917, told Americans about a new 
word and something about the slang of 
the war: 

There's a new word in the English lan- 
guage, and by that I mean the corrupt 
dialect of our mother tongue used in 
the British Isles, not the pure and yet 
improved variety current in North 
America. As soon as this war is over and 
Tommy resumes his civilian activities, 
the British will be getting out new edi- 
tions of those dictionaries wherein, they 
vainly believe, is embalmed the stan- 
dard English language of the world. 


And in the C section, probably without 
the comment of "argot" or "slang" or 
"colloquial," or any other mark of dis- 
reputability, will appear camouflage. 
Doubtless it will make its way, though 
more slowly, into those purer reposi- 
tories of the tongue published in Boston 
or New York; for we are sending an 
army over to France just now, and the 
first new word they will learn at the 
Front will be camouflage. The term was 
pretty nearly unknown, even to the 
French, three years ago; and the thing 
it represents was absolutely unknown. 
It is pronounced, at present, French fash- 
ion, like this — "cam-oo-flazh," the first a 
being short, as in cat; the second a 
broader, as in harm. 

It had laboured along for centuries, a 
rare and obscure French word, having 
several meanings, mostly slang. But in 
the theatrical business it signified 
makeup. The scene painters of the Pari- 
sian theaters carried it with them to the 
war and fixed it in army slang; for just 
about that time the armies of Europe be- 
gan to introduce a new branch of tactics 
into warfare. By the first winter of the 
war both sides were at it. The British, as 
they worked up to efficiency, adopted 
the method and learned the word. 

This word — having none other for the 
process — they added to the vocabulary 
of the British Army; it was new, and it 
was susceptible to a great variety of 
metaphorical uses. At latest accounts the 
British soldiers were working it to death. 
They use it as a noun, verb and adjective. 
They use it for any variety of conceal- 
ment — moral, spiritual, or intellectual. 

can. An airplane. 

Canada. A Canadian name for no- 

Canary cruisers. German submarines 
that used the Canary Islands as a supply 

base. The name was used by Navy per- 
sonnel on ships engaged in escort duty 
at the Azores. 

candidate for gold bars. An aspirant 
for a second lieutenancy. 

canned horse. Canned beef. 

canned Willie. Canned corned beef 
hash. The term is described and defined 
by Elbridge Colby in Army Talk: A Fa- 
miliar Dictionary of Soldier Speech 

This name for corned beef hash has a 
long and honorable history in the speech 
of the American Army. The A.E.F. took it 
to France with them and brought it back, 
and then distributed it over the country in 
the ranks of the American Legion. If it can 
be said to be general slang, it was specially 
military in origin and remains military. It 
was immediately taken up by the drafted 
men of 1940. 

cannon fodder. Soldiers, regarded as 
food for cannon. The Germans were fond 
of this expression at the beginning of the 
war, when their superior equipment gave 
them a tremendous advantage, but it was 
quickly adopted by U.S. and British 
troops. It came to refer to infantry units 
sent into combat situations in which 
they will almost certainly suffer heavy 
casualties. The term has remained in use. 

Can the Kaiser. A popular slogan of 
the American Army. One of the soldiers' 
songs runs as follows: 

We're off to can the Kaiser, 

Hooray! Hooray! In Kaiserland we'll take 

our stand 
Until we can the Kaiser. 
Let's go, let's go, let's go and can the Kaiser! 
Let's go, let's go, let's go and can the Kaiser! 


carry on. To resume what you were do- 
ing; to continue firmly and steadily; to 
persist. The term is clearly a Briticism, 
dating back to the early eighteenth cen- 
tury; it was picked up by American 
troops and used with mocking good 

cartwheel. A kind of acrobatic stunt of 
an airman. 

Casey. Knights of Columbus; when ab- 
breviated to "K.C.," the pronunciation 
suggested "Casey." 

caterpillar. An engine or tractor that 
draws big guns. 

cat stabber. A bayonet. 

ceiling work. The protection by an air- 
man at high altitude of planes below. 

Charlie. An infantryman's pack. 

Charlie Chaplin's Army Corps. A 

clearinghouse for Canadian casualties. 
One can only assume that this irreverent 
nickname alluded to the film comedian's 
odd way of walking, which some of the 
casualties may have been forced to 
mimic because of their wounds. 

chase prisoners. To guard prisoners 
employed at labor. 

chats. Lice. 

cheese toaster. A bayonet; a sword. 

cherched. To scrounge; to obtain. The 
term is given close scrutiny in Captain 
Carroll J. Swann's My Company (1918): 

"cherched" — a much-used expression 
among the soldiers, meaning "to get" 
something. The American soldier uses his 
head in obtaining something necessary to 
complete his equipment, to satisfy the in- 
ner man, to make his pal's or someone 
else's life brighter. He doesn't steal it. He 
may buy it, or borrow it, or find it, — but he 
gets it, and no questions asked. That's 

chief. The chief musician of a band. 


chow. (1) Food. (2) To eat. 

Several writers, including Eugene S. 
McCartney in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929), held that it had a ca- 
nine history, but this idea is almost cer- 
tainly bogus. To quote McCartney: "The 
soldier and sailor use of this word has 
been laid at the door of the Chinese chow 
dog, which has a reputation for insa- 
tiable hunger." Most evidence indicates 
that the American history of this term 
began with Chinese railroad workers in 
the West and their use of the Chinese 
word for food, chia. See also under the 
Civil War. 

chuck a dummy. To be absent; to feign 
a fainting fit to get out of duty or gain 

cits. Civilian (citizen) clothes. 

civvies. Civilian clothes. Although com- 
monly seen as pure World War II slang, 
it was in use as early as 1915 by the Brit- 
ish and then by the a.e.f. 

clicked it. Got killed; was wounded. 
The term comes from the slight, sharp 
noise made by a gun fired from a hos- 
tile position. 


clink. A guardhouse. The first clink was 
probably British. In Notes and Queries, 
December 1918, W. C. Forman writes: 
"Lock-up or gaol was always 'clink' in 
the vernacular in South Devon when I 
was a boy nearly 70 years ago. 'I'll 'ave 
'ee put in clink' is a threat I often had 
shouted at me when a small boy bent 
on mischief." 

clobber. Clothing. This was British 
street slang adopted by the Yanks. (It 
would not be until the war in Korea that 
this term became a verb meaning "to 
smash" or "to overwhelm.") 

clock. One's face. 

Cloverleaf Division. The 88th Divi- 
sion, composed of troops from Iowa, Illi- 
nois, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Its 
insignia was a black four-leaf clover, with 
a loop for each state. The insignia comes 
from placing two 8's at right angles. 

CM. Court-martial. 

c'mon you sonsabitches, do you want 
to live forever? Oft-quoted words of 
encouragement to Marines; first heard in 
this war and still heard in Korea. Many 
earlier references replaced "sonsa- 
bitches" with "Leathernecks." 

CO. (1) Commanding officer. (2) Con- 
scientious objector. 

CO. and Other Initialisms 

World War I slang never reflected the 
mania for initialisms and acronyms of 
the next war, but it signaled the begin- 
ning of a trend toward shortening words 
and phrases so they could be quickly 
uttered or written. Hundreds of these 

terms emerged, such as the following 
small sample that helped the readers of 
the postwar novel Aces Up understand 
the dialogue: 

CO. Commanding Officer. 
E.A. Enemy Aircraft. 
G.H.Q. Great Headquarters. 
G.O. General Order. 
O.D. Olive Drab. 
P.C. Post of Command. 
R.F.C. Royal Flying Corps. 

— From Aces Up, by Covington 
Clarke (1929) 

coal box. A German shell that gave off 
large amounts of smoke. 

cockpit. The observatory area of an air- 
plane, usually fitted with machine gun, 
ammo, and a pistol. The term was 
adapted from its nautical use, to refer to 
the area from which a small ship is 
steered. Originally, it meant the confined 
pit or enclosure used for cockfights. 

coffin nail. A cigarette, especially a 
cheap one. 

cognaceyed. Drunk; from the Ameri- 
can taste for cognac, the best of the 

cognacked. Drunk. See also cognac- 

cold feet. Nervousness; cowardice. In 
Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases 
(1925), Edward Fraser and John Gibbons 
say that this term originally came from 
the Air Force; however, it clearly pre- 
dates military aviation (Webster's Ninth 
New Collegiate Dictionary cites its first 
appearance in print as dating from 


collarbone camp. A French training 
area; so-called by Americans serving 
with the French because so many were 
hurt doing the intense exercises pre- 
scribed by the French, with a common 
injury being a broken collarbone. 

come-along. A strand of barbed wire 
about three feet long made into a noose. 
Come-alongs were used by raiding par- 
ties to induce enemy prisoners to 
"come along." 

commissaries. Groceries; things ob- 
tained in a military grocery store or com- 

com pray. An Anglicization of the 
French comprenez? ("do you under- 
stand?"). Arthur Guy Empey, in Over the 
Top (1917), says that the term was "uni- 
versally used in the trenches." American 
troops were still using the term during 
World War II. 

concertina. A collapsible wire entan- 
glement, resembling the shape of a con- 

conchie / conchy. A conscientious ob- 
jector. This term was more British than 
American in World War I, but was com- 
mon in both British and American slang 
during World War II. 

conked. Said of an airplane engine fail- 
ing to operate while in flight. According 
to E. M. Roberts, in A Flying Fighter 
(1918), the term is: "A new word which 
is taken from the Russian language and 
which means stopped or killed." 

cootie. A flea or louse. The term in- 
spired a special verse to an Army 

You're in the Army now, 
You're not behind a plow. 
You'll never get rich, 
You've got the itch, 
You're in the Army now. 

This term, which first showed up in 
print in 1917, is probably British in ori- 
gin, deriving from the much older slang 
term "coot" (an old or stupid fellow). As 
Americans were introduced to the body 
louse, the term was eagerly adopted and 
brought back home. See also the "cootie" 
entries under World War II. 

cootie bills. Franc and half-franc notes. 

cootie carnival. A search for cooties; 
better known as a shirt hunt. 

cootie explorer. One who conducts a 
shirt hunt. 

cootie garage. Earmuffs. 

cop it. (1) To be struck by a bullet or 
shell. (2) To be picked out for some duty. 

corkscrew. A kind of spiral dive by an 

corn Willy / corned Willy. (1) Canned 
beef. (2) Specifically, corned beef; corned 
beef hash, also known as "corned Bill." 

corpse. Corps. 

corpse tag. Any marker used to iden- 
tify a dead body. 

cosmoline soldiers. Heavy artillery; 
so-called from the oil used on the guns. 

cow. Milk. 


crasher. The violent landing of an air- 
plane brought down by antiaircraft fire. 

crate. A military aircraft. Alfred H. Holt 
writes of the term in Phrase and Word 
Origins (1961): 

The old biplane with the maze of struts 
and wires certainly justified the nickname 
of "crate" more than the slick flying fish of 
today's air lines. It used to be said, you 
know, that the mechanics would release a 
pigeon between the wings of one of the 
early planes; if the bird succeeded in es- 
caping, they would know there was a wire 
broken. Applied to such a plane, or to an 
old car, the term derives from the ricketi- 
ness of a crate, its sides being open for ven- 
tilation. It comes ultimately from Latin 
cratis, a wicker framework, and is related 
to grate and to Dutch krat, basket. 

crawl. (1) To admonish. (2) To buy 

cream puffs. Spherical clouds of white 
smoke created by bursting shells; an air- 
man's term. 

creeping Jimmy. A high-velocity shell 
that gives no audible warning of its ap- 

crow. A rating. The term is defined by 
Logan E. Ruggles in The Navy Explained 
(1918): "The rating badges of the service 
have an eagle spread over the designated 
insignia of the wearer and when a man 
gets rated, it is said that he got the 
crow — buzzard, bird or hawk." 

crump. A shell that burst with a cr-r-r- 
rump, which is to say a shell filled with 
high explosives. 

crumper. A large shell. 

cubby hole / cubby hutch. A small 
dugout in the trenches. Edward Fraser 
and John Gibbons, in Soldier and Sailor 
Words and Phrases (1925), suggest that 
America got this term from the British, 
specifically the Royal Navy, which had 
long used it to describe a pigeonhole or 
other small compartment. 

cuckoo. (1) A Sopwith airplane. (2) A 
torpedo plane, so-called, according to 
the London Daily Mail of December 27, 
1918, "because of its weakness for laying 
eggs in other people's nests." (3) An air- 
man who does his fighting with his 
mouth. (4) cootie. 

cuff leggins. Puttees. See also puttee, 
under the Spanish-American War. 

cum-sah. What's its name? What is it? 
The term is from the French comme-ca; 
it also appears as "u-jah." 

cumshaw / cum shaw. Something ex- 
tra; something gratis. In the Navy, the ex- 
pression is also used to indicate the 
receipt of a bribe or graft. 

It has been suggested that the term 
comes from the Chinese merchant's pid- 
gin rendering of "come ashore." In Sol- 
dier and Sailor Words and Phrases 
(1925), Edward Fraser and John Gibbons 
say that it is a pidgin rendering of the 
Chinese kamsia (kam ["grateful"] + sia 
["thanks"]) and go on to say that it shows 
up as early as c. 1775 in Chinese ports. 

curtain fire / curtain of fire. A wall of 
fire; a barrage; shells falling in a vertical 
plane, designed to prevent the enemy 
from escaping or from bringing up men 
or supplies. 

cushy. Comfortable; at ease. There are 
many theories about the etymology of 
this term. Some maintain that it came 
from "cushion," others say that it was a 
play on the Anglo-Indian khushi ("pleas- 
ant"), while still others insist that it 
comes from the French coucher ("to lay 
down") or couche" ("laid down") or from 
the town of La Cauchie, near Arras. A 
fascinating comment on the term and its 
possible relationship to the French word 
for bed (couche) appeared in the Atlan- 
tic MonthJy for February 1917: "Since 
uncertain French is mixed with English, 
a 'couchy' wound — no doubt from the 
French 'coucher' — stands for an injury 
necessitating a short layoff in the hos- 

Custer Division. The 85th Division. 
Here is the explanation for its name from 
The New York Times (December 29, 

When the 85th Division was stationed at 
Camp Custer, Michigan, there was a long 
discussion over a suitable nickname for the 
outfit. Such names as Wolf, Badger, Buck, 
Lynx, Grizzly, Eagle, Wolverine, Brown 
Devils, Invincibles, Iron Ore, Lightning and 
Great Lakes were suggested and discarded 
on the ground that they were not distinc- 
tive. It was finally christened the "Custer 
Division." At first this division was made 
up solely of men from Michigan and Wis- 
consin, but later troops from Kentucky, In- 
diana and Illinois were transferred to it. 

Its insignia was the letters c.d. in red 
on a white background. 

Cyclone Division. The 38th Division, 
composed of troops from Indiana and 
Kentucky. Its insignia was cy on a blue 
and red shield. 


• it D * * 

daily news. Latrine rumors. 

Eugene S. McCartney explains in his 
Slang and Idioms of the World War 
(1929): "In very cold weather the latrine 
was the warmest place to be found, since 
it contained a large boiler to heat water 
for the showers. The warm spots near the 
boiler were the center of camp gossip." 

day, the. A specified time or period. In 
the German army and navy before and at 
the beginning of the war, Der Tag.' ("The 
day!") was a toast given with an eye to- 
ward the day when the British and Ger- 
man fleets would clash. It was adopted, 
with a hint of irony, by the British and 

dazzle painting. Camouflage, in the 
Navy. It was described in the annual re- 
port of the secretary of the Navy for 1918: 

There has been developed, however, par- 
ticularly during the last year a system of so- 
called "dazzle painting" — the vessel being 
painted in an apparently grotesque and bi- 
zarre manner for the purpose, not of ren- 
dering it invisible, but rendering it difficult 
for the submarine commander, peering 
through his periscope for a few seconds at 
a time, to determine the course of the 

dead- leaf fall. An airman's stunt, re- 
sembling the free fall of a leaf from a tree. 

dead soldier. An empty beer bottle; 
also a "dead dog," especially in the Navy. 

death bomb. Depth charge. 

decks. The wings of an airplane; one of 
many adaptations of terms of the sea to 
the air. 


deedonc / didonk. A French soldier; 
from the French term of address dis 
done, equivalent to the American "say" 
(as in "say, can you tell me . . ."). 

deep-sea turkey. A salmon. 

defeatist. Anyone who doubted the al- 
lied ability to defeat the German war ma- 

dekko. A look at; a view of. 

demob. To demobilize. 

departure. This term was defined by 
E. F. Wood in The Note-Book of an Intel- 
ligence Ctfficer (1917): "When a shell 
starts from one of our own guns, one 
hears first the crash of the discharge, fol- 
lowed in diminuendo by the noise of the 
shell progressing farther and farther to- 
wards the enemy. This is called a 'de- 
parture.' " 

depth bomb. An egg. 

der uffs. Two eggs; from the French 
deux oeu/s. 

desk hooks. Spurs; an expression em- 
ployed in the air service, because the 
only use an officer had for spurs was to 
keep his feet from sliding off his desk. 

Devil Dogs. U.S. Marines; from the 
German Teufelshunde, a German nick- 
name for the Marines, given because of 
the Marines' fierce behavior in combat. 
Here is a quote from Army Boys on the 
Firing Line (1919), by Homer Randall, 
which underscores the regard in which 
this term was held: "They thought our 
marines would run too,' laughed Frank, 

'but do you see what they're calling 
them now? Teufelhunden. They're devil- 
hounds all right and the dachshund 
yelps when he sees them coming.'" 

The Marines have long treasured the 
nickname. Here is the dateline and first 
sentence of an Associated Press dispatch 
that appeared in the February 20, 1991, 
Houston Chronicle: "with the 2nd marine 


They call each other Devil Dog and let 
out rousing barks to boot." 

devil egg. A land mine. 

dial. One's face. See also clock. 

didonk. See deedonc. 

digger. An Australian, and a term of af- 
fection and comradeship. In The New 
York Times (February 23, 1919), Captain 
Edward M. Kent wrote: "And when we 
called them diggers to their faces they'd 
have gone sheer to — oh, almost any place 
for us. . . . Sort of made them pals with 

dig-in. A small excavation. 

dipped. An expressive word for being 
torpedoed at sea. In the British navy the 
term means also "to receive a setback" 
and "to get ditched." 

dirty neck. A French prostitute or 
woman of easy virtue. 

dirty puss. A young Frenchwoman. 

dishy billy. A state of undress or care- 
less dress; from the French dGshabille', 
for the same state. 


division that fought the battle of 
Paris, the. Those units stationed at 
Paris in 1917-1918. See also fought the 


dixie. A cooking pot. This term was de- 
scribed by R. Derby Holmes, in A Yankee 
in the Trenches (1918), as: "An iron box 
or pot, oblong in shape, capacity about 
four or five gallons. It fits into the field 
kitchen and is used for roasts, stews, 
char, or anything else. The cover serves 
to cook bacon in." 

In Slang and Idioms of the World 
War (1929), Eugene S. McCartney adds: 
"Strictly speaking, this is not slang. The 
cooking-pots issued by the Army Ord- 
nance Corps are officially designated as 
Dixies, though no one seems to know 
why. The term was also used by the Brit- 
ish for the same object." 

Dixie Division. The 31st Division, 
composed of men from Alabama, Flor- 
ida, and Georgia. Its insignia was dd in 
red, enclosed in a red rim on a white 

dizzies. Islandlike pieces of ground 
surrounded by communicating trenches. 

dock. A hospital; perhaps a combined 
play on "dock" (a berth in a harbor) and 
"doc" (a doctor). 

dodge the column. To shirk; to avoid 

dogey-dog. A guardhouse. 

dogfight. A battle between aircraft. 
This term has a very strong association 
with World War II, but it seems to have 
appeared late in this war or just after it; 

the Oxford English Dictionary lists it as 
first appearing in 1919. 

dogs. Feet. (Marines.) 

dog tag. An identification disk; also 
known as a meal ticket. See also under 
World War II. 

dog tag on file. Dead and buried. 

dog tent. A small shelter tent. 

Doing It. Doingt, France. 

doing one's bit. Performing military 
service. As the late John Ciardi com- 
mented in his Second Browser's Diction- 
ary, "a coy euphemism when that service 
involved rotting and dying in the trenches 
of the forever ungrateful French." 

dollar-a-year man. Someone who 
serves the federal government for patri- 
otic rather than financial reasons. The 
term came into use during the war 
when such volunteers were paid that 
sum because one dollar was the "valu- 
able consideration" needed to make 
their contracts binding. 

donk. An Army mule; a shortened form 
of "donkey." 

doss. (1) To sleep. (2) Sleep. The term 
predated the war as hobo or vagabond 
slang for "sleep." 

dough boy. A baker. 

doughboy. An infantryman. The term 
was universally accepted then as now 
(Laurence Stallings's 1963 book on 
America in World War I was called The 


DoughboysJ. In July 1941 a writer for The 
New York Times observed that there was 
no term to replace the "doughboy" of 
World War I; however, at about the same 
time, others began to comment on the in- 
creasing use of the term "G.I." as a name 
that soldiers applied to themselves. 

The term "doughboy" was exclusively 
applied to the Infantry and was taken as 
a name to be proud of: 

The cavalry and artillery 
And the lousy engineers, 
They couldn't lick the doughboys 
In a hundred thousand years. 

Word History — Many Theories 

One of the few things that are certain 
about this term is that it is old. The fol- 
lowing are the two earliest uses of the 
word, as given in the Oxford English Dic- 
tionary. (1) From 1685: "These . . . men 
had each of them three or four Cakes of 
bread (called by the English Dough- 
boy's) for their provision and Victuals." 
(2) From 1697: 'This Oil served instead 
of Butter, to eat with Dough-boys or 

But as for its use to describe a soldier, 
the proposed etymologies are as numer- 
ous as the authorities who claim to have 
the answer. In The American Language 
(1937), H. L Mencken held that the term 
originated in the Continental Army, 
whose troops wore white piping on their 
uniforms and applied pipe clay — the 
kind used to make clay pipes for smok- 
ing tobacco — to keep it white. When 
they were caught in the rain, the clay 
ran and smeared, covering the men 
with doughy blobs, whence came the 
then-derisive "doughboys." Here are a 
half dozen other "authoritative" expla- 

(1) A correspondent of The New York 
Times writes (October 13, 1918): "I have 
known of the term 'doughboy' as ap- 
plied to infantry soldiers for 70 years,- it 
did not originate in the civil war, but 

was in use long before in the British 

(2) In The Doughboys (1963), Laurence 
Stallings says: "There can be little dis- 
pute as to the derivation of the name. 
In Texas, U.S. Infantry along the Rio 
Grande were powdered white with the 
dust of adobe soil, and hence were 
called 'adobes' by mounted troops. It 
was a short step to 'dobies' and then by 
metathesis, the word was Doughboys." 

There have been British subscribers to 
this theory. For example, quoting a 
Colonel Repington in the Morning Post 
of October 5, 1918, the following lines 
appeared in Notes and Queries of Octo- 
ber 1918: "I believe that the name 
comes from a Spanish word, and was 
given by the American cavalry to the 
infantry during the old war in Mexico, 
because the infantry were usually cov- 
ered with dust." 

(3) Heywood Broun, in The A.E.F. 
(1918), writes: 

Another story has it that during some 
maneuvers in Texas an artilleryman, 
comfortably perched on a gun, saw a 
soldier hiking in the thick sticky Texas 
mud. The mud was up to the shoetops 
of the infantryman and the upper part 
which had dried looked almost white. 
"Say," shouted the artilleryman, 
"what've you been doing? Walking in 
dough?" And so the men who march 
have been doughboys ever since. 

(4) The following appeared in Notes 
and Queries (November 1918): "Fifty or 
sixty years ago Richard Bedford Poul- 
den, late of the 56th Regiment, distin- 
guished himself in Australia by the 
capture of a powerful aboriginal mur- 
derer named Doughboy. Probably the 
name was given to that individual in 
the days of his innocence, and from his 
own, and not his buttons', resemblance 
to a dumpling." The connection between 
an Australian criminal and the soldier 
is elusive; but it shows the term in use. 

(5) The following paragraph is from 
Richard H. Thornton, An American Glos- 
sary (1912), quoting the wife of General 
George Armstrong Custer in her 1888 


book, Tenting on the Plains: "A doughboy 
is a small round doughnut served to 
sailors on shipboard, generally with 
hash. Early in the civil war, the term was 
applied to the large globular brass but- 
tons of the infantry uniform, from which 
it passed by natural transition to the in- 
fantrymen themselves." 

(6) A letter to The New York Times 
(July 1 9, 1 944), signed by "Major," says: 
"In the Peninsular Campaign, an infan- 
try outfit acquired a large supply of 
wheat and ground its own flour. The site 
of the flour mill came to be called 
Doughboy Hill and the soldiers got the 
name of 'doughboys.'" 

The letter also contains three other 
theories, which is about par for the 
course; for example, four popular expla- 
nations of the origin of the word are 
quoted by George H. McKnight in En- 
glish Words and Their Background (1 923). 

doughfoot. An infantryman. The term 
was not nearly as common as doughboy. 
See also under World War II. 

doughgirl. A Y.M.C.A. or Red Cross 
girl (i.e., one who bakes and gives out 

doughnut army. The Salvation Army. 

dough puncher. A baker. (Army or 

dovetail. A soldier who has completed 
training in officers' training school and 
is awaiting a commission. One such was 
quoted in the Literary Digest (April 19, 

We were attending the Artillery School 
at Saumur, France, when the armistice was 
signed. An order was received from Wash- 
ington to the effect that no more commis- 
sions would be granted. But we had to 
finish the course of training. We were sure 

S.O.L. ("strictly out of luck"]. Later the or- 
der was modified to the effect that we 
would be commissioned in the U.S.R. 
[United States Reserves] upon discharge in 
the States. But between graduation in 
France and discharge in the States, we have 
no standing. We are supposed to fit in some 
place between a buck private and a "Shave- 
tail," so some bright bird christened us 
"Dovetails" or "Third Lieutenants," and 
the name has stuck, and as such we are 
known around our outfits. 

down for a shoot. Having to appear at 
the mast before the captain; same as 
"down for a chance" and "up for a 

dozey. Dull; slow; as if dozing. 

dream sack. A hammock; a Navy term. 

drum fire. Artillery fire so intense that 
the successive shots merge into one an- 
other, suggesting the roll of a drum. 

dry canteen. An Army store selling 
food and beverages, but no liquor. 

duck. A bed urinal; also known as a 
"submarine" or a "sub." All of these 
names derive from its long, ducklike 

duckwalk. A slatted wooden walk built 
to prevent soldiers from sinking into 
the mud. 

dud. An unexploded shell (also called 
a "blind"). The term was extended to ap- 
ply to anything bad or unfavorable, even 
to persons (to refer to someone lacking 
energy or initiative). Eugene S. McCart- 
ney writes in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929): "This idea was doubt- 
less suggested by the use of the word to 


mean ragged and worthless clothes. The 
word was employed occasionally, how- 
ever, before the war in speaking con- 
temptuously of a person." 

Dud in Action 

Some ready witted Tommy addressed 
himself one day to a huge German shell 
that had fallen near him but failed to 
explode. "You dead old dud," beamed 
the Tommy. Since then all harmless 
shells, bombs or cartridges have been 
known as "duds." 

From explosives that do not explode, 
the word soon extended itself in fighters' 
vocabularies to describe idle parts of the 
front as "dud sectors," war weary Boches 
as "dud Fritzes," and battles that fail to 
develop into expected big actions as 
"dud shows." 

— Stars and Stripes (February 1 5, 

dugout. (1) A protected place in the 
trenches. (2) Elderly officers returning 
to temporary service; used familiarly. 
Edward Fraser and John Gibbons wrote 
in Soldier and Sailor Words and 
Phrases (1925): 

It first came in apparently during the 
South African War of 1899-1902 for pen- 
sioned or retired officers who came back to 
service in consequence of the depleting of 
the active establishment through casualties 
in the field. In the War hundreds came for- 
ward as volunteers and served in every ca- 
pacity both naval and military, in most 
cases filling subordinate posts, regardless 
of former rank. Retired admirals and cap- 
tains did duty in auxiliary craft of all 
kinds, or trained and disciplined ashore 
the men of all callings who came forward 
to serve at sea. On the Army side, retired 
Generals and Colonels rendered equally 
invaluable service in training units and re- 
cruits for the New Armies. 

The term first appeared in print in 
1818 in America to refer to a canoe made 
from a hollowed-out log. 

dum-dum. (1) A soft-nosed bullet that 
"mushrooms" (expands) when it hits. 
(2) A silly or stupid person. The follow- 
ing etymology is given in Soldier and 
Sailor Words and Phrases (1925), by Ed- 
ward Fraser and John Gibbons: 

An unofficial name, originally used for 
the Mark IV Lee-Metford bullet with a cav- 
ity in the head, introduced after the Chitral 
Campaign of 1895 in consequence of the 
lack of stopping power in the small-bore 
bullet hitherto in use. The Hague Tribunal, 
at the insistence of Germany, interdicted its 
employment in European warfare, but in 
the Great War allegations were made on 
both sides that the other side was using 
such bullets, the term being used loosely 
for any bullet so tampered with as to in- 
crease its wounding power. The name 
comes from the Indian Arsenal at Dum- 
Dum, a few miles from Calcutta, where the 
small-arms ammunition of the Indian 
Army is principally made. 

dumdums. Beans. 

dupan. Bread; from the French du pain 
("some bread"). 

dust disturber. An infantryman. 

Dutch. A German; from the German 
deutsch ("German"). 

Dutchland. Germany; from Deutsch- 
land, which is what Germans call their 



E * 

Eagle boat. Any of a class of large, 
quickly built, oil-burning ships used in 
antisubmarine warfare. The first Eagles 
were built in the Ford plant at River 
Rouge, Michigan, near Detroit. 

Easter Egg flotilla. The small boats of 
the patrol squadron; the name was 
doubtless suggested by the nestful of 
eggs, or depth charges, that each of these 
little boats carried, ready to be dropped 
over the stern. 

easterner. One who maintained that 
the war could be won if more attention 
were paid to the eastern front (or Tur- 
key), rather than the western front. See 
also westerner. 

Eatables. Etaples, France; also called 
"eat-apples." This is one of many place 
names that were rendered American (for 
example, Sailly-la-Bourse became "Sally 

eelight. Elite; best; choice; select. 

effectives. Those military men able to 
fight. During this war some National 
Guard officers were deemed not combat 

egg. (1) A bomb; a mine; a depth 
charge. (2) A new member of a unit. 

egg basket. An arrangement of metal 
struts in which bombs were carried in 
an airplane. 

eighteen-pounder. An underage re- 
cruit (under eighteen years old); used af- 

elephant dugout. A safe and roomy 
dugout braced by heavy steel girders. 

Elsie. A fine inflicted by a summary 
court-martial (for example, "a five- 
dollar Elsie"). 

emma gee. A machine gun or a ma- 
chine gunner. The term came from the 
British communications code for "M" 
and "G" and saw use among the Ameri- 
cans. In the same way, "M.P." became 
"emma pip." 

embuss and debuss. 

of an omnibus. 

To get in and out 

Empire Division. The 27th Division, 
composed of men from New York, the 
Empire State; also called "New York's 
Own." Its insignia was the letters ny 
monogrammed in red on a black field 
with the constellation of Orion; the con- 
stellation is a pun on the name of the 
division's commander, Major General 
John F. O'Ryan. See also hobnail express. 

enemy's delight. Mustard gas. 

erf. Egg, the French oeuf comically pro- 

ersatz. False; substandard (as in "ersatz 
butter"). The term is from the German 
term for reserves or substitutes, as in Er- 
sarztruppen ("reserve units"). See also 
under World War II. 

espritt de corpse. Brotherhood; com- 
radeship. The term derives from the 
French esprit de corps (group enthusi- 
asm or spirit). 


evening hate. A German cannonade, 
which at one time was a regular evening 

exemption. An ailment, real or simu- 
lated (generally simulated), by which a 
man hoped to be exempted from duty. 
Confirmed "invalids" of this type were 
greeted in the morning with the saluta- 
tion, "Full of exemption again?" 

eye. A periscope. 

eye-wash. Activities performed in get- 
ting ready for inspection (i.e., making 
things outwardly presentable). This term 
is first cousin to "hogwash," for that 
which is insincere or misleading. 

Notes and Queries (January 1919) re- 
ported: "It is apparently used to denote 
anything that is exaggerated or calcu- 
lated to deceive or mislead. Any portion 
of an official document, or a list of regu- 
lations which is not of vital importance, 
is designated 'eyewash.' So also are com- 
plimentary remarks, either true or 

According to Eugene McCartney in 
Slang and Idioms of the World War 
(1929), others have suggested that the 
term was "applied to most circular 
memoranda received, particularly about 
wearing of slacks or Sam Brownes, sa- 
luting, or economization of petrol; some- 
thing to be winked at." 

• tV F * • 

fag. A cigarette; from British street 

fast freight. A heavy shell. 

fatal pill. A cannonball. 

father rheumatism. A constant com- 
plaint of men in the trenches. 

fatigew. A man detailed for fatigue 
duty, or routine drudgery. The term is an 
exaggerated pronunciation of "fatigue." 

feather. The wake or ripple left by a 
protruding periscope. The feather was 
often visible when the periscope was 

fed up. Sated; disgusted; having had 
enough. A contributor to Notes and Que- 
ries for March 1919 states very guard- 
edly that he thinks the expression was 
picked up from the Australian troops in 
the Boer War of 1899-1902. 

fedupness. Satiation; disgust. 

feeneesch. All gone; too late. Writing 
in Scribner's Monthly for November 
1918, Roy S. Durstine says, "It is a combi- 
nation of finis and finish. Literally it 
means all gone." 

festoon. A wire entanglement. 

field day. A day or a number of hours 
set aside for cleaning decks in the Navy. 
According to John G. Rogers in Origins 
of Sea Terms (1985), "the term appeared 
during or shortly after World War I." 

fighting on the cognac front. Intoxi- 
cated with strong drink. 

fag issue. A cigarette ration. finance. One's finances. 


fineesh. See feeneesch. 

fireworks. A night bombardment. 

first hitch. A first enlistment. See hitch. 

first-to-fight boys. The Marines; so- 
called because of their "first to fight" 

fish. (1) A torpedo. (2) A dirigible bal- 
loon, because of its shape. (3) A subma- 
rine. (4) A man who is afraid to fly in 
an airplane. 

fish tail. A grenade. The term was used 
for everything from the small "pine- 
apple" fired from a rifle to monstrous 
aerial torpedoes. The name derived from 
a kind of vane or rudder that served to 
guide the projectile in its flight. 

five nine. The standard German shell, 
which was 5.9 inches in diameter. 

fix. The location or position of a subma- 
rine as established by listening devices. 
The object of many an antisubmarine 
chase during this war was to get a fix. 

fizz-bang. A shell. 

F.L. The front line. 

flags. A semaphore signaler. 

flag-wagger. A semaphore signaler. 

flaming coffin. (1) An airplane falling 
in flames. (2) A nickname for certain air- 
craft, such as the De Havilland 4. 

flap. A state of excitement or alarm. The 
term was used mostly by the British navy 

in World War I. See also under World 
War II. 

flare. A rocket fired at night from a pis- 
tol to light up no-man's-land; the blaze of 
light from star shells (target-illumina- 
tion devices). Arthur Guy Empey, in Over 
the Top (1917), defines the term from the 
perspective of the man in the trenches: 
"A rocket fired from a pistol which, at 
night, lights up the ground in front of 
your trench." 

fleabag. An officer's sleeping bag. 

flipper. A hand. 

flivver. A small destroyer. The term is 
discussed by James B. Connolly in The 
17-Boat Hunters (1918): 

There was another young officer — Chis- 
holm call him — who played poker occa- 
sionally. He commanded a flivver, which is 
the service name for the smaller class of 
destroyers, the 750-ton ones. In our navy 
there are plenty of . . . officers who will tell 
you that they never built destroyers which 
keep the sea better than that same little 
flivver class. Young Captain Chisholm on 
the 323 was one. 

At about the same time, this term be- 
came general slang for a dilapidated au- 

fluid war. The period before the four- 
year war of trenches and barbed wire. 

flying ace. See ace. 

Flying Circus. Nickname of German 
Baron von Richtofen's elite aerial pur- 
suit squadron. 

flying fish. (1) A rifle grenade. (2) An 
airplane (in the naval air service). 


flying fish hooks. Hooks attached to 
fireballs by the Germans to make sure of 
burning up planes in case contact was 

flying tank. An armor-plated scout 

flying turtle. A French observation bal- 
loon. See also sausage. 

fly slicer. A cavalryman. 

fly trap. A wire entanglement. 

foot s logger. An infantryman. 

for it. Ordered into action. 

for the duration. Until the end of the 
war. A soldier might speak of having en- 
listed "for the duration." 

fought the battle of Paris. To have 
been stationed in Paris, otherwise 
known as Yankee heaven. See also divi- 

found. To be found deficient or wanting 
in anything, especially in an exami- 

four-minute men. A corps of about 
75,000 men on the American homefront 
who would go to movie theaters and 
other public places and, for four minutes, 
declaim anti-German propaganda. 

fowl balls. Ghicken croquettes; a 
Navy term. 

foxhole. An excavation that would 
serve as an individual's shelter or dug- 
out. See also under World War II. 

fox pass. A false step; a social blunder. 
Derived from the French faux pas ("false 
step"), the term also appears as "folks 
pass," "fo paws," and "fawks pass." 

frankies. The French; derived from the 
French Frangais ("French"). 

freeze. To lie flat on the ground in no- 
man's-land, while rockets are exploding. 

Frenchyville. Paris. 

f rightfulness. A translation of the Ger- 
man word Schrecklichkeit. This descrip- 
tion appeared in the Saturday Review of 
October 26, 1918: "A method of warfare 
characterized by brutality, horror and 
terrorism as conducted by the German 
Army in the World War of 1914-1918." 

Fritz. A German; Germans as a group. 
The word is a common German first 
name. "Guess Fritz is getting more than 
he bargained for," says a character in 
Homer Randall's Army Boys on the Fir- 
ing Line (1919). 

frog. A Frenchman. This term was used 
for the French as early as the 1780s, but 
it was given a new lease on life by the 
American soldier during World War I. 
The most common theory is that this de- 
risive term comes from "frog eater," be- 
cause of the French predilection for 
frog's legs. 

In Words of the Fighting Forces (1942), 
by Clinton A. Sanders and Joseph W. 
Black well, Jr., no less than thirteen 
"frog"-based words from the 1917-18 pe- 
riod appear: "frog cop," "frog dame," 
"frog dizzy shop" (a French saloon), 
"frog dough" (francs), "frog funny pa- 
pers" (francs), "froggy" (a member of the 


French armed services), "frog juice joint" 
(a French saloon), "frogland" (France), 
"frog lip pounding" (speaking French), 
"frogskin" (a franc note), "frog's para- 
dise" (Paris), "frog teakettle" (a French 
railroad locomotive), and "frogtown" 

front and center. The command to 
step out of formation, usually foreshad- 
owing trouble. 

front- liner. A front-line trench 

F.T.D. Feeding the dog (the occupation 
of a soldier killing time). 

fuckin'. Paul Fussell, in The Great War 
and Modern Memory (1975), points out 
that this word was ubiquitous in the war: 
"The intensifier of all words was fucking, 
pronounced fuckin', and one exhibited 
one's quasi-poetic talents by treating it 
with the greatest possible originality as 
a movable 'internal' modifier and placing 
it well inside the word to be modified. 
As in, 'I can't stand no more of that Mac- 
bloody-fuckin'-Conochie.' " 

The f-word was important in another 
context, as Laurence Stallings points out 
in The Doughboys (1963): 

It was an axiom that a man who would 
not actively cooperate with one "f" verb 
would not fight which was the comple- 
mentary "f" word. For this reason many a 
young man was unable to excuse himself 
from the action in a French whore house 
no matter how depressing the surround- 
ings and no matter how obvious it was that 
a prostitute was loaded with disease. 

full pack. A soldier carrying all of his 

full pack slum. Slum with a crust 
baked over it. 

function. To act as intended. To say that 
a machine or a unit was "functioning" 
was seen as British and American slang 
beginning in this war. Edward Fraser and 
John Gibbons, in Soldier and Sailor 
Words and Phrases (1925), give several 
examples, including: "The company 
were not up to much, but they seem to 
be functioning right now." 

funk hole. A dugout (1). 

Funky Villas. Foncquevillers, France. 


A * 

gadget. Any mechanical contrivance 
or detail; anything that one does not 
know the name of. An old tar is quoted 
in R. G. Kauffman's Our Navy at Work 

Well, he's had a lot of it — Philippines, 
Boxer Rebellion, Vera Cruz, and Haiti. You 
know, in the Marines, when we can't think 
of the generic name for anything, we call 
it a "gadget" or a "gilguy." Now, this man 
has won a Congressional Medal and has 
another coming. When we sighted the 
French coast, I was standing where he 
couldn't see me, just behind him; and I 
heard him say, while he looked over things 
in general: 

"I got one o' them gadgets now an' one 
on its way. I wonder if I'll get another 
over here." 

galvanized iron can. A heavy shell. 
See g.i. can (2). 

gas bombs. Stale eggs. 

gas goggles. A gas mask. 

gaspirator. A gas mask. 


gassed. Said of a victim of poisoned 
gas, as well as a victim of the hot air of 
a trenchmate. 

German up. A German airplane is 

get down to it. To sleep. 

get it. To be killed. 

get the sparks. To fire machine-gun 
bullets at enemy barbed wire at night. 
When a bullet strikes wire, it generally 
throws off a bluish spark; thus, as ex- 
plained by Arthur Empey in Over the 
Top (1917): "Machine gunners use this 
method at night to 'set' their gun so that 
its fire will command the enemy's 

get the wind up. To become nervous 
or scared; to be flustered by danger. See 


G.I. can. (1) A galvanized can; "G.I." 
was short for "galvanized iron." (2) A 
German heavy shell; so-called because of 
the similarity to the kind of galvanized 
can found around a hospital. 

gimper. A special and most dependable 
buddy; a highly competent airman. Lieu- 
tenant Eddie Rickenbacker led the group 
known as the gimper squadron, and the 
term was discussed by him in the Liter- 
ary Digest of August 24, 1918: 

One who would stick to you through 
thick and thin; a member of the Gimper 
means a lot to us. It means more than scout, 
or pal, or comrade. I got the word from a 
mechanic I had when I was in the racing 
game. He was a gimper, and I knew when 
he finished with a motor, she would run. 

In this man's life there were two kinds of 
people — gimpers and bums. 

See also goopher. 

Gimper Squadron. An American es- 
cadrille headed by Lieutenant Eddie 
Rickenbacker. See also gimper. 

gippo. Bacon grease; fat. 

give a steady one. To growl and curse. 

give her the gun. To advance the 
throttle of an airplane, thus feeding fuel 
and making the engine rev faster. 

goat. A junior officer. For a different 
use of this term, see under the Civil War. 

goaty. Awkward; ignorant. 

go-away medicine. Poison gas. 

gob. An enlisted man in the Navy. 

Gob Word History 

For starters, here is what Eugene 
McCartney had to say about "gob" in 
Slang and Idioms of the World War 


The sailors much prefer this word to 
"Jackie." A popular weekly states that 
there is evidence that this word origi- 
nated on the Chinese coast. It was em- 
ployed long before the war. A 
newspaper clipping says that the name 
originated at the time of Perry's expedi- 
tion to Asia, when the Orientals called 
the American sailors "gobshites." It 
seems to be generally agreed that the 
name originated in Asia. 

As is the case with many other words 
whose history is forgotten, explanations 
are not wanting. The following is from 


Logan E. Ruggles's The Navy Explained 

Long before the Spanish-American 
War, out on the Asiatic Station, there 
was a long, lanky sailorman on the 
flagship by the name of Gobbles. Gob- 
bles was a very well known character 
in the "mosquito fleet," as the Asiatic 
Squadron was termed. Gobbles was a 
good natured, easy-going sort of chap; 
he made a decided hit with the "gang" 
because he could drink like a sea-gull 
and stand up longer than any man on 
the station. He could swill Tansan, Tsing- 
tau or San Miguel and other beers of the 
Orient. ... He had the goats of every 
Limejuice [British] sailor, marine or civil- 
ian ashore, because he could put 'em 
away every time in the beer battles. 

They first called this gentleman 
"Shikepoke," and he went by this han- 
dle for some time; since his name was 
Gobbles, they cut the two names in half 
and called him "Gobshike," so Gobbles 
changed his name to just plain, simple 
"Gob," and by that name he was known 
until he came home to the States. 

The term "Gob" later became so popu- 
lar on the station that men coming home 
brought it back; later it was circulated 
in the North Atlantic Squadron, and still 
later throughout the service. To-day it is 
the sailorman's favorite, and he always 
refers to himself as "Gob." 

Ruggles goes on to traffic in the truly 
odd and implausible — totally in keep- 
ing with the lore of the Navy: 

In the olden days — back where an- 
cient history started — there was a peo- 
ple, tribe or creed known as Gobbies. 
They were a ghost people and could 
only see at night; they lived in cliffs, 
high trees and deep under the ground. 
They were seldom seen out in day- 
light — in fact seldom seen at all. In later 
years the people were known as Gob- 
bies, since they were of the spook vari- 
ety or goblins, as they are sometimes 
called. And since all sailors were super- 
stitious once upon a time, all suspicious 

characters were called Gobbies. And, 
too, sailors always abbreviate their 
words, and soon the term Gobbies was 
known as Gobs; in time, it is said that 
sailors began to refer to each other as 

gob gully. A Navy supply route. 

go in. To occupy enemy trenches. 

G.O.K. God only knows. This term was 
borrowed from British physicians, who 
used it when dealing with large numbers 
of wounded and when there was not 
ample time for proper diagnosis. 

gold brick. (1) A shirker; one who tries 
to avoid work or to get an easy job; a non- 
combatant. (2) A member of the military 
police. The following is from an article 
by George Pattullo in the Saturday Eve- 
ning Post for September 21, 1918: "But 
Wally sidled up to one of the M.P.'s ex- 
hibiting his wounded arm as credentials. 
Ordinarily he avoided 'goldbricks' as the 
doughboys called the military police." 
(3) An unattractive girl. 

gold brick. To evade duty; to shirk. The 
term is defined by Mark Sullivan in Our 
Times, Vol. V, Over Here (1933): "Pre- 
tending you have sciation when what 
troubles you is homesickness or 

goldbrick dream / goldbricker's holi- 
day. An easy task or assignment. 

goldbricker. A shirker. 
goldfish. Canned salmon. 


gooey. Hash. 

goopher. A competent airman who is 
almost of top quality. This was a slang 
term of the gimper squadron for an air- 
man one level below a gimper. Lieutenant 
Eddie Rickenbacker was quoted as fol- 
lows in the Literary Digest of August 24, 
1918: "When a new chap arrives, he's an 
egg. All good eggs soon become vultures, 
and they are promoted to goopher 

goose step. To march stiff-kneed. Ger- 
man troops marched in this graceless, ri- 
diculous fashion, as if "saluting" with 
their feet. The term was doubly appro- 
priate: not only is the step imitative of 
the waddle of a goose, but any given 
marcher seems to be goosing the man in 
front of him. See also under World 
War II. 

go out. To be relieved from the 

go over the cognac trail. To get 

go over the hill. To desert. 

go over the wall. To go to prison. 

"Go-to-Hell" Whittlesey. Major Charles 
W Whittlesey, the commander of the so- 
called lost battalion in the Argonne 
Forest. "Go to hell" was the major's an- 
swer to a German demand for surrender; 
in its time, it seemed the boldest of re- 

go to stir. To go to prison. The term 
"stir" for "jail" or "prison" is very old; it 
appears to derive from the Anglo-Saxon 
styr ("punishment"). 

got the wrinkles out. Said of a man 
who enlisted in the Navy to get his hun- 
ger appeased. Once sated, he scorns the 

gowed up. Drunk; a Navy term, along 
with the synonymous "hopped up." 

go west. To die. The expression is dis- 
cussed in Notes and Queries for Decem- 
ber 1918: "The region of the dead is 
naturally in the land of the setting sun, 
and the dead have been 'going west' from 
time immemorial. When Ulysses went to 
pay a visit to Hades, he directed his 
course westward. The mythologies of 
many tribes retain the same tradition 

The expression "to go west" was ex- 
tended so that a soldier might speak of 
an airplane as having "gone west." 

grandma. A fifteen-inch howitzer; so- 
called because it was short and stout. 

gravel agitator / gravel cruncher. 



graveyard watch. The shipboard 
watch from midnight till four a.m., when 
there was silence throughout the ship. 

gray mule. Corn whiskey; so-called be- 
cause of its color and its "kick." The 
drink was also known as "white light- 
ning" and "white mule." 

grease. Butter; also known as "pull" 
and "drag." 

The Great War. The name used by 
most Americans fighting in what had 
first been known as the European War. 

Green Hornet. The nickname of Colo- 
nel George S. Patton, in this war. Patton 
was the consummate fighter; it is re- 
ported that on taking command of his 
first Negro division, he said, "Well, men, 
I am happy to have you here. I don't give 
a damn what color you are, just so you 
kill those sons-of-bitches in the green 

groundhog. An infantryman in the 

Groundhog Day. A name for Armi- 
stice Day (November 11, 1918), when the 
fighting stopped and everyone came out 
of their holes. This was a gag of the pe- 
riod just following the war. 

ground squirrel. A man in the Avi- 
ation Corps who does not fly as part of 
his duties. 

ground stunt. A fliers' term for an at- 
tack from a low altitude. 

grouse. To grumble; to complain. This 
was British military slang adopted by the 
Americans during the war. 

G.S.W. A gu^hot wound. 

gum the game. To interfere; to spoil 

gun for seam squirrels. To extract 
lice from one's clothes. 

guy. A pal; a good friend. 


• * H * * 

hairbrush. A type of bomb or hand gre- 
nade. Arthur Guy Empey discusses the 
term in Over the Top (1917): "A bomb 
used in the earlier stages of the war. It is 
shaped like a hairbrush and is thrown by 
the handle. Tommy used to throw them 
over to the Germans for their morning 
toilette." The term enjoyed limited 
American use. 

half-and-half trench. A trench built 
up with sandbags to a height equaling 
the depth of the excavation, thus making 
the distance from the bottom of the 
trench to the top of the parapet twice the 
depth of the excavation. 

ha If -loot. A second lieutenant. 

hang on the wire. To be killed in ac- 
tion; to hang dead on the barbed wire of 


Hans. A German. 
hardhead. A cavalryman. 
hard oil. Butter. 

hardtack. Hard bread; a biscuit. See 
also under the Civil War. 

hard tail. An Army mule. This was an 
old southern term for a mule; it spread 
into the Army via farmers and mule- 

haricot bean. A bullet. 

Hash! hash! "Gas! gas!" The following 
appeared in the Literary Digest of Febru- 
ary 8, 1919: "It is said that on one occa- 


sion after soldiers had tired of hash, 
which was being served for the n-teenth 
time, they hastily put on gas masks and 
spread the cry of 'Gas! gas!' For weeks 
after that the actual alarms were an- 
nounced as 'Hash! hash!'" 

hatrack. A horse in poor condition. 
This was an old farm term for any animal 
good for nothing more than hanging 
hats from. 

have the cafard. To be fearful and sad. 

heave eggs. To shell with artillery. 

Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken by Christ- 
mas. A slogan of the doughboys in 
parts of France during the summer of 
1918. Hoboken was a port of embar- 

heavy dough. An artilleryman man- 
ning heavy artillery. 

hedgehog. An egg-shaped criss-crossed 
tangle of wire; from the nocturnal mam- 
mal of the same name, which presents its 
defensive spines by rolling up in a ball. 

hedgehop. To fly near the ground. The 
following lines, by "an American in 
France," appeared in the Independent of 
November 6, 1918: "I went 'hedge hop- 
ping' last night. 'Hedge hopping' is the 
fanciful name for flying low. I think it is 
perhaps the most exhilarating — and dan- 
gerous — of all phases of flying, even in- 
cluding acrobatics. It is the splendid 
sensation of tremendous power and 
matchless speed. No other sensation is 
to be compared with it." 

Heine. A German; from the German 
name Heinrich. 

heine tin fish. A German submarine; a 
torpedo fired from a German submarine. 

Hell-fighters. The 369th Infantry Regi- 
ment, from New York City. 

hell's acres. The territory between the 
front lines. See no-man's-land. 

hell's half hour. A strenuous half hour 
at bayonet practice. 

Hell Terrors. Australians; a German des- 

he-man. A strong, virile man. Robert G. 
Skerrett writes in the Saturday Evening 
Post of October 26, 1918: "Theirs is a he 
man's job; and they are tackling it like 
red-blooded, two-fisted fighters. They are 
heroes all of them." 

he tried to step on one. Said of a man 
who has a shell explode underfoot. 

hickboo. A rumpus; a bombardment. 
According to the Literary Digest: "Hick- 
boo means a good many things, but 
chiefly that enemy aircraft are about. If 
Zeppelins or Taubes are on their way, a 
hickboo is on. Anything, in fact, which 
is calculated to put the wind up the 
timid is a hickboo. The word is said to 
be a distortion of an Indian word mean- 
ing an eagle." 

hickie. (1) Anything whose name one 
does not remember; what's-its-name; a 
thingamajig. (2) A pimple. 

hi-ex shell. A high-explosive shell. 

highball. Salute. This term does not 
appear to come from the name of the 


drink, but rather from the name of the 
railroad signal denoting a clear track 
(hence it also means "to start," "to con- 
tinue moving," and "to increase speed"). 
The signal itself was a painted metal 
globe hoisted to the cross-arm of a tall 
pole and then brought down — analogous 
to a salute. 

higher-up. An officer. 

hike. A march; tommy's "route march." 
According to B. Matthews, in Munsey"s 
(April 1919): "Perhaps 'hike' is our sole 
surviving linguistic legacy from our an- 
nexation of the Philippines." 

his nibs. The commanding officer of 
an outfit. 

hissing Jenny. A big shell. 

hitch. An enlistment. A soldier may 
speak of "three hitches in the Navy and 
two in the Army." This term had been 
American slang for "marriage" since 
about 1860; thus, an enlistment is a 
"marriage" to the Army. 

hitch in. To enlist for the second time 
in the Navy. 

hit the deck. To get out of one's bunk, 
see snap out of it. 

hive. To discover; to catch. 

Hobnail Express. The 27th Division. 
This division was also known as 
"O'Ryan's Roughnecks" and "O'Ryan's 
Traveling Circus." See also empire di- 

hobo. A provost-sergeant. 

hog table. A table for the glutton at 
mess (see under the Civil War). In his ar- 
ticle "Feeding the American Army," in 
The Century for November 1918, R. F. 
Wilson explains: "The 'hog table' is 
plainly and bluntly so labeled upon a 
large cardboard sign that hangs directly 
above it. A day or so at the 'hog table' is 
apt to impress any recruit with the wis- 
dom of moderation when the roast beef 
is passed." 

holy brick / holy stone. A stone about 
the size of a brick, used to scour the 
decks of a warship. Logan E. Ruggles 
writes in The Navy Explained (1918): 
"Sand is thrown upon the deck, soapy 
water is sprinkled around and then the 
holy-stone is pushed back and forth over 
the sand by the aid of a long stick and it 
cleans the deck and makes it snow white 
when dry. It is also called a holy-brick, 
or the rock of ages." 

Holy Joe. (1) A chaplain. (2) Any man 
effecting piety. 

honey wagon. A French manure cart. 

Hooverize. To save. The verb was 
coined from the name of Herbert C. Hoo- 
ver, United States Food Administrator 
during the war, and later President of the 
United States. Saving was serious busi- 
ness to Hoover, who sent a message to 
General John J. Pershing asking that he 
put sentries in chow lines to make sure 
that nothing was wasted. The recommen- 
dation was not heeded, and as Laurence 
Stallings points out in The Doughboys 
(1963): "No Doughboy ever Hooverized, 
though there would be days when not 
even cold food could reach him and he 
would welcome a piece of black bread 
from the pocket of a prisoner." 


hop-over. A trench raid over the top 
and into no-man's-land. 

horizontal exercise. The "activity" of 
lying down or sleeping; a Navy term. 

hot-stuff. To steal, "pinch," "lift," or 
appropriate to oneself. (2) To be exces- 
sively audacious. 

hot-stuffer. A thief. 

housewife. A soldier's sewing kit. 

how. A toast in drinking; it means 
"Here's to your health" or "My regards." 

how-gun. A howitzer. 

H.S. Mustard gas. 

hug the bathmats. To lie flat while 
shells fly overhead. 

human cyclones. The Marines. 

humdinger. Something that is excel- 
lent or the best. Private A. B. Callow, in 
a letter published in the Literary Digest 
of November 16, 1918, wrote: "Say, 
Skotchie, I forgot to mention these 
American nurses. They are humdingers, 
I want to tell you. And, Skotchie, these 
girls are all for you here. There isn't any- 
thing they won't do for you." 

In the Saturday Evening Post of No- 
vember 2, 1918, George Patullo wrote: 
"Another old French sergeant stayed 
with us two days. He was a humdinger. 
He had a gray beard and was well up in 
years; but there he was in the front 
trenches. It seemed that back in 1914 he 
had been in the commissary behind the 
line because he was considered too old. 

But the boches burst through and cap- 
tured him. Somehow he managed to 
The term is of unknown origin. 

hummingbird. An artillery shell. 

Hun. (1) A German. According to Ar- 
thur Guy Empey, in Over the Top (1918), 
this term was "mostly used by war corre- 

It is reported that, in 1900, on the eve 
of the departure of German troops to 
help quell the Boxer insurrection, Kaiser 
Wilhelm urged them to play the part of 
Attila's Huns. In Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929), Eugene S. McCartney 
quotes from the War Book of the Univer- 
sity of Wisconsin, which reports that the 
kaiser said: "No mercy will be shown! 
No prisoners will be taken! As the Huns 
under Attila made a name for them- 
selves, which is still mighty in traditions 
and legends today, may the name of Ger- 
many be so fixed in China by your deeds 
that no Chinaman shall ever again dare 
to look at a German askance." 

(2) A student airplane pilot. The title 
was a reflection of the destruction they 
wrought in learning their duties. Ac- 
cording to E. M. Roberts, in A Flying 
Fighter (1918): "A student who is learn- 
ing to fly is called that on account of the 
queer things he does. Every pilot is a 
Hun until he has received his wings." 

hungry Liz / hungry Lizzie. An ambu- 
lance stationed at a flying field and ready 
for emergencies. 

Hun land. Germany. 

Hun pinching / Hun raiding. The 

practice of raiding German trenches for 


Hun sticker. A bayonet. 

hunt cooties / hunt lizards. To search 
for lice in one's clothing. 

hurry up and wait. A phrase used by 
the a.e.f. to describe the routine of the 

hush-hush boat/ hush-hush ship. A 

floating air base. Eugene S. McCartney 
identified them in Slang and Idioms of 
the World War (1929): "Craft to serve as 
floating bases for airplanes. The name 
originated from the secrecy with which 
the new type of ship was guarded. The 
purpose of the first boats of this type was 
to serve as cruisers to deal with raiders, 
but the guns were too powerful for the 

hyphenate. An immigrant to America, 
or an American from an immigrant fam- 
ily. The term is defined by Eugene S. 
McCartney in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929): "A citizen of the 
United States who tries to maintain alle- 
giance to the country from which he or 
his ancestors emigrated to the United 
States. The term was coined by Colonel 
Roosevelt. It was suggested by our habit 
of speaking of German-Americans, Ital- 
ian-Americans, etc." 

* * | * * 

I.C. Inspected and condemned by an in- 

iddy-umpties. Members of the Army 
Signal Corps; also known as "buzzers." 

idler. The Navy man who kept the 
morning watch. 

Illinois Division. The 33rd Division, 
composed of troops from the Illinois Na- 
tional Guard; also known as the prairie 
division and the yellow cross division. 
Its insignia was a yellow cross on a 
black circle. 

Immelmann turn / Immelmann roll. 
An aerial "stunt" — essentially, a 180- 
degree turn made by taking half a loop 
followed by half a roll. It was practiced 
by the German ace Max Immelmann. 
Quentin Reynolds described it in They 
Fought for the Sky (1960): "He would 
pull his stick up sharply, making the 
nose of the Fokker rise as though he were 
beginning a loop; but at the top of the 
loop he did a half-roll and came out fly- 
ing in the opposite direction, with the 
needed height regained. It took the Brit- 
ish airmen completely by surprise." 

Soon afterward, the British paid Im- 
melmann the compliment of imitating 
the turn, which later became a standard 

I'm sorry. An insincere apology. In later 
wars, an equivalent phrase would be, 
"Sorry 'bout that." 

Indian Head Division. The 2nd Divi- 
sion. Its insignia was a red Indian head 
on a white star. 

in dock. Laid up with illness; in the 
hospital, or dock. 

ink. Red wine. 

in the mill. In a guardhouse. 


in the pink. Healthy; fit. The term is an 
abridgment of "in the pink of condition." 

Iron Division. The 28th Division, com- 
posed of Pennsylvania National Guard 
regiments; also known as the keystone 
division and the Pennsylvania division. 
Its insignia was a red keystone, an allu- 
sion to Pennsylvania as the Keystone 

Iron Jaw Division. The 32nd Division; 
so-called because it was employed on 
both flanks of the Marne salient. See also 


iron ration. Canned food carried for 
use in an emergency. 

Ivan. (1) Individual Russian soldier. (2) 
The Russian Army. 

Ivy Division. The 4th Division. Its in- 
signia was four green ivy leaves on a drab 
background. "The choice of ivy leaves 
was due to a pun," reports Eugene S. 
McCartney in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929): "When the Roman nu- 
merals IV are regarded as capital letters 
and are pronounced, we get ivy." 

• * J 


jackass rig. Improper garb, as a pair of 
white pants with a blue jumper; a Navy 

Jack Johnson. A large shell. Wrote Eu- 
gene S. McCartney in Slang and Idioms 
of the World War (1929): 

This was a common designation of the 
German 1 7-inch shell, although it has been 
applied to missiles as small as those from 

the 6-inch howitzer. This nickname had a 
great vogue at the beginning of the war be- 
fore Jack Johnson had been dethroned from 
the heavy-weight championship of the 
world. He was living in Paris at the time. 

jack-of-the-dust. "A man in charge of 
the commissary stores and storerooms" 
is the definition given by Logan E. Rug- 
gles in The Navy Explained (1918). "[He] 
keeps the keys to the issuing room and 
serves out the rations for the day's con- 
sumption. He is generally a ship's cook, 
or a man who has had some experience 
in the galley." 

j aggie. A judge advocate general. 

jake. A term that expresses satisfaction. 
If a girl is pretty, she is jake. If anything 
is right, it is jake. It has been suggested 
that the word is an Anglicized form of 
the French chic ("becoming"; "natty"). 

Java. Coffee. 

jawbone. (1) Credit; a loan. (2) To trust; 
to lend. This word was used nearly fifty 
years before in the territory of Washing- 
ton, in the sense of "to get credit by talk." 

jawbreaker. An Army biscuit. 

Jayhawker. A country boy in the Navy 
who is habitually stargazing when he 
should be paying attention to duty. 

Jay hawkers. The 89th Division, com- 
posed of men from Kansas, Missouri, 
and Colorado. The word was used of par- 
ticipants in the free-soil conflict in Kan- 
sas around 1848-1850. Its insignia was a 
black monogrammed mw ("Middle West"). 
It was also known as the Western Di- 


Jazz Boes. American black troops in 
France; a patronizing but positive name. 

jelly bean. A girl. 

Jenny sass pass / Jenny's pa. I do 

not understand; from the French j'e ne 
sais pas. 

Jerry. (1) A German. It has been said 
that the British were looking for a term of 
contempt for the Germans and somehow 
settled on this; the term became popular 
all over the world. (2) A steel shrapnel 

Jerry jabber. A bayonet. 

Jerry sausage. A German zeppelin. 

Jerry whale. A German submarine. 

Jersey Lightnings. The 78th Division, 
composed of men from New Jersey, Dela- 
ware, and New York. Its insignia was 
white forked lightning on a red semicir- 
cle. It was also known as the Lightning 

Jewish cavalry / Jews' division. The 

Quartermaster Corps; so-called because 
of the impression that there was a high 
percentage of Jewish storekeepers. 

John. A greenhorn; a newcomer to the 
Army. Here is what Lieutenant Daniel E. 
Walsh wrote in a letter to his parents, 
published in the Baltimore News on Oc- 
tober 24, 1918: "You know they call a 
man who has seen no service a 'John.' 
Well I am not a 'John' any more." 

John J. General John J. ("Black Jack") 

Johnny. (1) A Turk. (2) The Turkish 

joyrider. A government-owned automo- 
bile when used by officials for pleasure; 
a person who uses such a car. 

joystick. The nickname for the main 
control lever of an aircraft; clearly, a play 
on the phallic nature of the instrument. 
According to Edward Fraser and John 
Gibbons, in Soldier and Sailor Words 
and Phrases (1925): "The control lever 
was invented in 1907 by an M. Pelterie, 
who, in May 1923, was awarded over 
seven million francs in a law-suit against 
the French government for infringement 
of his patent during the War." 

Joysticks on Parade 

The term "joystick" was regarded as 
both funny and risque and those who 
wrote about the aviators of the period 
never seemed to miss a chance to have 
someone grab a joystick. Here are 
three examples. 

D. H. Haines wrote in American Boy 
for February 1919: "A bare minute of 
this (Sidmore always cut the preliminar- 
ies to a minimum), then the speed of 
the plane increased, it nosed up into the 
wind, the pilot pulled the 'joy-stick/ as 
the lever which operates the elevating 
planes is called, and the machine took 
the air." 

Alan Bott's "Contact," in Cavalry of the 
Clouds (1918), contained these lines: 
"C.'s bus was then seen to heel over into 
a vertical dive, and plunge down, spin- 
ning rhythmically on its axis. Probably 
he was shot dead and fell over on to the 
joy-stick, and this put the machine to its 
last dive." 

Marcel Nadaud wrote in Atlantic 
Monthly for November 1918: "Papa 
Charles pulled the joy-stick; the aero- 
plane nosed up, leaped, took a tail-dive 
of several hundred metres." 


juice. Gasoline; any other source of 

jump. To admonish 

jumping-off point. The point from 
which an attack begins. "Jumping-off 
place" is a phrase of frequent occurrence 
in journals of early western travel, desig- 
nating the starting point on the frontier. 

jump Off. To gO OVER THE TOP. 

jump ship. To leave a ship without 
proper authorization. 

jump the bags. To go over the top. 

just a minute. A bistro; from the 
French estaminet (a small cafe). 

• it K * * 

kaput. Finished; over; shot. It is from 
the German kaputi, 

kenoozer. Connoisseur; an Angliciza- 
tion of the French word. 

Keystone Division. The 28th Division, 
composed of Pennsylvania National 
Guard Regiments; so-called because 
Pennsylvania is the Keystone State. It 
was also known as the iron division and 


K.G. 5. King George V. 

kicked. Dishonorably discharged. 

kick the bucket. To die. See under the 
Civil War. 

Kings of No Man's Land. The 2nd 

Brigade of the 1st Division. According to 
A. H. Chute, in The Real Front (1918), 
the men of that division "have won for 
themselves the title of 'Kings of No Man's 
Land.' To them that dread country be- 
tween the trenches is no longer known 
as No Man's Land. They call it 'The Do- 
minion of Canada.'" 

kip. (1) To sleep. (2) A bed. 

kissing the earth. Said of an airplane 
standing on its nose after a crash. 

kitchen police / K.P. Men detailed to 
help the cook in menial tasks. It is a 
World War I term, not World War II, as 
some have wrongly stated. The verb "po- 
lice," meaning "to clean up an area," is 
first recorded in 1893; it may be a cor- 
ruption of "polish." 

One soldier who had been assigned to 
the kitchen police wrote home as fol- 
lows, in a letter published in The Out- 
look (May 15, 1918): "Dear Mother:— I 
put in this entire day washing dishes, 
sweeping floors, making beds, and peel- 
ing potatoes. When I get home from this 
camp, I'll make some girl a mighty fine 

Sing a Song of K.P. 

A popular song of the war days ran 

K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy, 

You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore. 

When the m-moon shines over the 

I'll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen 


This was the soldiers' parody of it: 

K-K-K-K-P, damnable K.P. 

You're the only kind of work that I 

When the m-moon shines over the 

I'll be mopping up the k-k-k-kitchen 


Songs proclaiming the indignities of 
K.P. were not rare during World War I, 
and at least one was written by a man 
of some ability. As related in Elbridge 
Colby's Army Talk: A Familiar Dictionary 
of Soldier Speech (1 943): 

In Yip-Yip-Yaphank, a musical review 
put on by the soldiers of the 1918 Camp 
Upton, Irving Berlin — himself one of 
them — appeared on the stage with 
scrub pail and mop and sang: 

Poor little me, 
I'm a K.P.; 

I scrub the mess hall on bended knee. 
Against my wishes I wash the dishes 
To make this world safe for 

kite. A weight used on the sweepwire 
in a minesweeping operation. The fol- 
lowing passage appeared in the National 
Geographic of February 1920: 

Sweeping mines ... is not a particularly 
intricate process. It consists essentially in 
dragging a heavy wire between two vessels. 
In order to bury the wire to a sufficient 
depth beneath the surface to insure catch- 
ing the mines, "kites" are attached to the 
sweepwire just astern of each vessel. These 
kites fly down in the water in much the 
same manner that an ordinary kite flies up 
in the air. 

kiwi. A nonflying member of the Air 
Corps; from the name of the flightless 
New Zealand bird. 


knitting needle. A sword. 

knock civvies into shape. To train 
raw recruits. 

knocked off. Killed. 

knock koo-koo. To render unconscious; 
to mortally wound; to kill. 

knuckle knife. A dagger blade with a 
studded steel guard over the grip. 

K.O. The "kommanding" officer of a 
large unit; "CO." designates the com- 
mander of a smaller unit. 


kraut. A German; from "sauerkraut." 

kraut fish. A German submarine. 

Krautland. Germany. 

kraut outfit. A unit of the German 
armed forces. 

kraut ship. A German man-of-war. 



lachie. Milk (from the Spanish leche). 

Ladies from Hell /Ladies of Hell. The 

Scotch "Kilties" (units whose uniform 
included kilts). The term is a translation 
of the Germans' name for these fierce 
fighters. The expression may have first 
been applied to the Canadian High- 
landers at Langemarck, but afterward it 
designated all Kilties. 


"Lafayette, we are here." Words re- 
ported to have been uttered by General 
John J. ("Black Jack") Pershing as he 
stood by the tomb of Lafayette in Paris. 
In fact, however, these words were spo- 
ken, not by Pershing, but by Colonel 
Stanton, a member of Pershing's staff. 
The phrase was widely repeated among 
the American troops pouring into Paris. 

Lafayette Division. The llth Division, 
organized at Camp Meade, Maryland, in 
August 1918. Its insignia includes the 
profile of the Revolutionary War hero the 
Marquis de Lafayette. 

laid out. Injured; having fainted. 

land battleship / land cruiser / land 

ship. A tank, when tanks were in the 
experimental stage. 

lathouse. Latrine; presumably a blend 
of "latrine" and "outhouse." 

latrine rumor. Startling news, almost 
always incorrect. 

latrine sergeant. A private whose 
duty it was to keep the latrines in order, 
clean the floors, keep the fires going, etc. 

leather. Meat. 

leather bumper. A cavalryman. 

leatherneck. A Marine, either British 
or American. According to sources on 
both sides of the Atlantic, the name — it 
has long been claimed — derives from 
the tight-looking military collar, but, 
perhaps, as John Ciardi asserts in A 
Browser's Dictionary (1980) because the 
Marine uniform had a leather lining in 

the collar of the dress uniform ca. 1880. 
A song of the US. Marines runs as 

The Leathernecks, the Leathernecks, with 
dirt behind their ears! 

The Leatherneck's the man that mops up 
all the beers; 

The infantry, the cavalry, and the dirty en- 

Couldn't lick the Leathernecks in a hun- 
dred thousand years. 

American Leatherneck 

Joe, as they is so few things you know, 
not meanin' you're dumb or the like, 
only thick, I will tell you what a Leath- 
erneck is. Joe, a Leatherneck is the baby 
they send for when Mexico or some of 
them other South-American joints which 
is under the protection of Uncle Sam 
gets fresh and tries to go Republican. 
The Leathernecks is rushed special deliv- 
ery on a battleship and lands at this 
joint and the next mornin' the papers 
says, "A detachment of United States 
marines was landed at Porto Bananas 
to put down a revolution. They was no 
trouble. The revolutionists was buried in 
lots of a thousand each. One marine got 
wounded. He stumbled over the Porto 
Bananas army whilst comin' back to 
his ship." 

— H. C. Witwer, Marines' Bulletin 
Holiday Number (1918) 

leave one cold. To annoy; to bore. Ed- 
ward Fraser and John Gibbons, in Soldier 
and Sailor Words and Phrases (1925), 
provide the following etymology: "Pre- 
sumably from the French colloquialism 
'cela me laisse froid' — i.e., It's a matter of 
complete indifference. It doesn't inter- 
est me." 

Lee Division. The 80th Division. The 
following account of the naming of this 


division is quoted from the Army and 
Navy Journal, in The New York Times of 
December 29, 1918: 

The 80th Division of the National Army, 
in real Winter quarters in the "Sunny 
South" — the mercury hovering at a point 
between 4 and 6 degrees below zero — re- 
ceived its distinctive designation. The bap- 
tism occurred at Camp Lee, just outside 
Petersburg, Va., in connection with a 
memorable tribute by soldiers to a de- 
parted soldier, the leader of the lost cause. 
The occasion was the birthday anniversary 
of General Robert E. Lee. 

The baptism occurred at the climax of a 
brief but inspiring address by Brig. Gen. 
Lloyd M. Brett, commanding the 80th Divi- 
sion and the camp. After thanking the peo- 
ple of Virginia for their hospitable 
treatment of the soldiers of the command, 
General Brett concluded: "When the great 
call comes for us to go 'over there' and we 
have stood the acid test of battle, then — 
and not until then — bestow on us the name 
Lee Division." 

Enthusiastic cheering followed General 
Brett's suggestion, and it was adopted 
unanimously, with this slight modification, 
the 80th Division will not have to wait un- 
til it has stood the acid test of battle; it was 
then and there named Lee Division, and as 
such it will be known in history until the 
end of time. 

See also blue ridge division. 

leg it. To run away. 

Les Terribles. The 32nd Division, com- 
posed of troops from Michigan and Wis- 
consin. It was so-called by the French 
because of the bravery and initiative 
shown by the men of this division. Ed- 
win L. James wrote of them in The New 
York Times for September 9, 1918: "No 
unit in our army presents men of better 
physique than these Indians, lumber- 
jacks, and farmer lads from the North- 
west." The division was also known as 

the broad arrow division and the iron 


Lewisite. A poison gas developed un- 
der the direction of Winford Lee Lewis 
at the American University, in Washing- 
ton, DC. 

liaison. A link between two units. 
Thus, an "officer de liaison" is a staff of- 
ficer charged with the duty of coordinat- 
ing different units. In a letter published 
in the Literary Digest of November 16, 
1918, Corporal H. E. Hilty writes: "As we 
were supposed to keep up a liaison with 
the next post where the sergeant was, I 
crouched by a tree to sort of get a hold 
of myself and decide what to do, for I 
couldn't keep up the liaison myself and 
watch the post, too." 

liberty cabbage. Sauerkraut. The New 
York Times for November 30, 1918, re- 
ported as follows: '"Liberty cabbage,' 
made in Germany and there still known 
as sauerkraut, has been served at many 
American army messes during the week, 
five carloads of the edible having been 
left behind by the withdrawing German 

liberty clover. German clover; a name 
used by some American farmers. 

Liberty Division. The 77th Division, 
composed of troops drafted from New 
York. Its insignia was the Statue of Lib- 
erty on a blue field. This division was 
also called the melting-pot division, the 
metropolitan division, and the UPTON DI- 
VISION. The name "New York's Own" has 
been applied to both the 27th and 77th 


liberty measles. German measles. 

liberty steak. Chopped steak. 

lid. A helmet. 

light hands. A gentle touch in han- 
dling the JOYSTICK. 

Lightning Division. The 78th Divi- 

limey. A British sailor or ship; also, 
"lima." This use of the word comes from 
the old "lime-juicers," for ships on 
which lime juice was given to ward off 

Lincoln Division. The 84th Division, 
composed of men from Illinois, Indiana, 
and Kentucky. It was so christened while 
stationed at Camp Zachary Taylor, Ken- 

little Archibald. A special gun for fir- 
ing parachute flares. 

little Bertha. A German "105" (artil- 
lery piece). 

little Jesus. A corporal. 

Little Willie. The German crown prince. 

loggin. A recruit. After the war, this 
term came to mean "boob," "sap," or 

Lone Star Division. The 36th Division, 
composed of National Guard troops from 
Texas and Oklahoma. The name derives 
from the fact that Texas is called the 
Lone Star State. Its insignia was a white 

star on a red disk. The name replaced 


The following is from The Statesman 
of October 19, 1918: 

After consultation of representative of- 
ficers of the National Guard of Texas and 
Oklahoma, it was decided that the appella- 
tion Panther Division was in no way appro- 
priate, and that hereafter the Thirty-sixth 
Division shall be known as The Lone Star 
Division, and that its emblem shall consist 
of a five-pointed star with the numerical 
designation "36" superimposed in the cen- 
ter of the star. 

In fact, however, the divisional insignia 
became a blue Indian arrowhead with a 
khaki "T" superimposed upon it, the "T" 
representing Texas and the arrowhead 
representing Oklahoma, formerly In- 
dian territory. 

longhorn. See mechanical cow. 

long Tom. A French 155-mm rifle. 

looie. A second lieutenant. 

look-see. A look through the raised-up 
periscope of a submarine. 

look spare. To have nothing to do; to 
be at leisure. 

Looneyville. Luneville, France. 

loophole. A concealed aperture through 
which one could snipe at the enemy. It 
is a very old term, dating back to the six- 
teenth century. 

loot. A first lieutenant. 

lose one's can. To be killed; most com- 
monly used to refer to men shot through 
the head. 


Lost Battalion. The 1st Battalion, 308th 
Infantry (77th Division), commanded by 
Major Charles W. Whittlesey. Its commu- 
nications were cut in late September 
1918 and again in early October, while it 
was advancing into the Argonne Forest. 
Its position, however, was always known. 
See also "Go-to-hell- whittlesey. 

Iota [pronounced: "lah-tah"]. Anything 

Lufberry circle. An aerial maneuver 
whose invention is credited to Raoul 
Lufberry, a famous World War I Ameri- 
can ace. Groups of planes, if attacked 
while flying in formation, shift into a cir- 
cular formation with each aircraft pro- 
tecting the one ahead. Also known as the 
"Lufberry show," the maneuver was, ac- 
cording to Don Lawson in The United 
States in World War I (1963), used by all 
air forces in fighter-plane combat up 
through the Korean War. 

* ^ M * * 

madamoizook. A Frenchwoman of 
easy virtue. 

mad minute. The firing of fifteen 
rounds from a rifle in sixty seconds. 

maggot. A small, fast airplane that 
guards reconnaissance planes; also 
called a "viper." 

make knots. To move fast; a Navy term. 

male tank. A tank armed principally 
with rapid-fire cannon. A female tank 
was designed for lighter work and was 
equipped with machine guns. 

man trap. A booby trap. As described 
in My Company (1918), by Captain Car- 
roll J. Swann, man traps were "ingenious 
devices of the huns for killing us after 
they had retreated." 

Marinette. A woman who enlisted in 
the Marines to do clerical work. 

marmite. A shell; from the French 
word for a pot. 

Marne Division. The 3rd Division. 
Major General Joseph T. Dickman con- 
ferred this name on the division after its 
exploits on the Marne opposite Chateau- 
Thierry. According to National Geo- 
graphic for December 1919: 

The three white stripes of its insignia are 
symbolical of the three major operations in 
which the division participated — the 
Marne, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse- Argonne. 
The blue symbolizes the loyalty of those 
who placed their lives on the altar of self- 
sacrifice in defense of the American ideals 
of liberty and democracy. 

meal ticket. A wrist tag used for pur- 
poses of identification; also known as a 


mechanical cow. An airplane that is 
clumsy in the air. Such aircraft are de- 
scribed by V. Drake in his Above the Bat- 
tle (1918): "Some machines of this type 
possessed an elevator situated out in 
front of the body and supported by two 
long outriggers. The machines with 
these long outriggers were called Long- 
horns, those without them Shorthorns." 

mechanical flea. A Ford automobile, 
especially one used by the military. 


Melting-pot Division. The 77th Divi- 
sion. According to Eugene S. McCartney, 
in Slang and Idioms 0/ the World War 
(1929): "The Seventy-seventh Division, 
so named because composed of a sprin- 
kling of all the nationalities that make 
up the cosmopolitan population of New 
York. It is said that hundreds of the men 
could not speak English when they were 
drafted. The Division acquitted itself in 
true American style." See also liberty 
division and upton division. 

merchant of death. A manufacturer or 
other businessman who made money 
from the war. This postwar term comes 
from the title of the book The Merchants 
of Death (1920), by H. C. Engelbrecht and 
F. D. Hanighan, which argues that muni- 
tions manufacturers were among the ma- 
jor forces behind the outbreak of the war. 

mercy blow through / messy 
bucket. Many thanks; from the French 
merci beaucoup. 

mess gear. A mess kit. 

mess up. To get into or cause trouble. 

Metropolitan Division. The 77th Divi- 
sion. See liberty division, melting-pot 
division, and upton division. 

mex. Any non-American currency; per- 
haps from the derogatory use of the same 
term to refer to anything cheap or infe- 
rior (from "Mexican"). 

Middle West Division. The 89th Divi- 
sion, composed of men from Colorado, 
Kansas, and Missouri. The insignia was 
a circle with a w in the center, which, 
when inverted, becomes an m. 

military census. The draft. 

milk squadron / milk battalion. The 

third squadron in cavalry; the third bat- 
talion in infantry. In his book First Call 
(1918), Arthur Guy Empey explains that 
"milk" is taken from the letters of the 
companies from which the squadrons 
come: "I," "K," "L," and "M." 

mill. A guardhouse. See also under 
World War II. 

mind your eye, judge. Be careful. 

Minnehaha. A German trench mortar; 
from the German Minenwer/er ("mine 
thrower"). The British term was "minnie." 

missing. Dead and unburied. 

Missouri hummingbird. A Missouri 

miss the bus. To lose out on an oppor- 

M.O. A medical officer. 

moan. To complain; to grumble. 

moaner. A pessimist. 

mob. A regiment; used at Gallipoli. 

monkey drill. Rough-riding (in the 
Cavalry); also, a reference to the act of 
leaping on and off the back of a gallop- 
ing horse. 

monkey meat. Canned beef. Some- 
times, the term referred to canned meat 
and carrots. This account by Major Gen- 
eral Omar Bundy appeared in Every- 


body's Magazine for March 1919: "We 
received the French ration, a part of 
which was canned beef shipped from 
Madagascar. It had a peculiar taste which 
our men did not like. They called it 
'monkey meat' and it soon became 
known by that name throughout our 

monkey motions. Physical exercises. 

monkey suit. A fur suit for high flying. 

moocher. A politician who takes graft 
or who "bolts" (opposes his or her 
party's position). The following ap- 
peared in The New York Times of Octo- 
ber 10, 1918: 

Many "charges" have been "hurled" at 
Miss Jeannette Rankin, at present a Repre- 
sentative in Congress from Montana, but 
the height and depth of political "slang- 
whangin" in the State can best be judged 
from the Fergus County Argus, which in- 
cludes her among "political moochers." 

In the old English slang, to "mouch" was 
to steal, to prig. If one doesn't quite under- 
stand the process of importation, one sees 
how "moucher" passes into "grafter." No- 
body has accused or could accuse Miss 
Rankin of having been that. As a politician, 
she may have been brought into temporary 
political alliances with thinkers of the 
Nonpartisan League school, found guilty of 
"graft" by politicians of the opposing 
school. So far as can be made out from Fer- 
gus County, however, she is a political 
"moocher" and "one of the most despica- 
ble of politicians," because she is a bolter. 
If a "moocher" is only a bolter, it is a title 
of honour and respect which Miss Rankin 
can accept with pride. 

moo-cow farm. Mouquet Farm, the 
scene of especially fierce fighting in the 
battle of the Somme. 

moosh. A guardroom. 

mopper-up. One whose duty it is to 
kill or subdue the defenders of enemy 
trenches passed over by an assaulting 

mosquito fleet. The small boats, plea- 
sure boats, and other craft pressed into 
service as submarine chasers. See also 
under the Civil War. 

mother. A howitzer not so large or 
heavy as a grandma (in general, a twelve- 
inch howitzer). 

mother ship. A vessel that accom- 
panies submarines to supply their needs 
and act as a base. 

mounseer. A Frenchman; from the 
French monsieur. 

mousetrap. A plant in Willoughby, 
Ohio, built for the manufacture of lewis- 
ite. According to Eugene S. McCartney, 
in Slang and Idioms of the World War 
(1929): "It was so called by the workmen 
because every one who entered the elev- 
en-acre stockade did so under an agree- 
ment not to leave until the end of the 
war. The purpose of this action was, of 
course, to guard the secret of manu- 

movies. A searchlight. A man working 
a searchlight is said to be "on the pic- 
tures" or "on the movies." 

M.P. Military police. 

muck in. To share rations. 

mud cruncher. An infantryman. 

mudlark. An engineer. 


muffler. A gas mask. 

mule skinner. A teamster; a wagoner. 

Mulligan. A stew made of the regular 
ration issue and whatever extras may 
come to hand; from hobo vernacular, 
probably derived from "salmagundi" (a 

Mulligan battery. A cook wagon. 

mungey / mobgee. Food; from the 
French manger and Italian mangiare 
("to eat"). 

munition mongering. Profiteering. See 


mustard gas. A gas that smells like 
mustard, makes the eyes water, and has 
a devastating blistering effect when it 
comes in contact with the skin. It was 
also known as yellow cross. 

mustard imitator, lewisite; from its 
use in response to mustard gas. It was 
much more deadly than mustard gas, as 
indicated by this description from Har- 
per's (November 1919): "Lewisite is a gas 
so deadly that it has seventy-two times 
the killing power of the most deadly gas 
used in the war." 

mystery ship. A vessel that can be 
quickly converted from a seeming tramp 
steamer into a warship. According to Eu- 
gene S. McCartney, in Slang and Idioms 
of the World War (1929): "Mystery ships 
were designed for use against the subma- 
rine. They were so named, of course, 
from the veil of secrecy which was 
thrown about them. The designation has 

been applied to submarine monitors 

A news item on mystery ships in The 
New York Times of December 22, 1918, 
attests to their importance in the war at 

London, November 30 (Associated Press) — 
One of the most exciting chapters of the 
war against U-boats is a series of accounts 
of notable engagements between British 
decoy ships and the submarines, made 
public by the British Admiralty. While the 
whole story of the part played by these de- 
coy vessels, "mystery ships" or "Q" craft 
has not been revealed, it is evident that sev- 
eral of them were used to lure the undersea 
craft to destruction. 

See also q-boat / q-ship. 

• -tt N * * 

Nancy. An NC type of seaplane. The 
New York World of May 17, 1919, saw 
this word as evidence of linguistic inno- 
vation during war: "The NC type of sea- 
plane becomes at once the 'Nancy' of 
aircraft in popular parlance. And what 
with this coinage and 'blimps' and 'hop 
offs,' linguistic inventiveness goes on 
augmenting the vocabulary in the time- 
honoured way which is the despair of 
purists and precisians." 

napoo / napoo-fini. Gone; dead; fin- 

napper. One's head. 

native son. A prune. 

N.C.O. Noncommissioned officer. Hu- 
morously interpreted as "noncombatant 


officer," this initialism was applied to of- 
ficers stationed in Washington, D.C. 

near go, a. Almost killed. 

nest. (1) A dugout. (2j A machine-gun 
position or emplacement. (3) A sniper's 
place of concealment. 

New England Division. The 26th Di- 

New York Division. The 27th Division. 


New York's Own. A title given to both 
the 77th Division (the liberty division) 
and the 27th Division (the empire di- 

night ops. Night operations or ma- 

night roll. To drive an ambulance at 

ninety-day wonder. A second lieuten- 
ant. See also under World War II. 

no bon. No good; from the French bon 

No-Man's-Land. The devastated terri- 
tory between the hostile front-line 
trenches; so-called, according to the 
troops, because no one owns it and no 
one wants to. In The Great War and Mod- 
ern Memory (1975), Paul Fussell writes: 
"The phrase 'No Man's Land' has 
haunted the imagination for sixty years, 
although its original associations with 
fixed positions and static warfare are 


The designation "no-man's-land" is in- 
teresting whatever its origin, and as 
with so many expressions of this war, 
there is more than one explanation of 
its history. The Oxford English Dictionary 
says: "A piece of waste or unowned 
land; in early use as the name of a plot 
of ground, lying outside the north wall 
of London, and used as a place of exe- 

In discussing plowing, F. Seebohn, in 
The English Village Community ( 1 890 edi- 
tion), writes: "In other cases little odds 
and ends of unused land remained, 
which from time immemorial were 
called 'no man's land,' or 'any one's 
land,' or 'Jack's land,' as the case 
might be." 

Mark Twain, in Following the Equator 
(1897), has some comments on the ex- 
pression: "Australia has a slang of its 
own. This is a matter of course. The vast 
cattle and sheep industries, the strange 
aspects of the country, and the strange 
native animals, brute and human, are 
matters which would naturally breed a 
local slang. . . . The wide, sterile, un- 
peopled deserts have created phrases 
like 'No Man's Land' and the 'Never- 
never Country.'" 

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictio- 
nary says the term first appeared in print 
in the fourteenth century. 

noncom. A noncommissioned Army of- 

nonstop. Said of an airplane trip with- 
out intermediate landings. Here is a very 
early use of the term in The New York 
Times (1919): 

London, June 16 (Associated Press) — Lon- 
don celebrated today the achievement of 
the two British airmen who yesterday com- 
pleted the first non-stop transatlantic 


flight, meanwhile preparing for a formal re- 
ception to the air victors, Captain John Al- 
cock and Lieutenant Arthur W. Brown. 

nose cap. A gas mask. 

nose dive. To make 
plunge in an aircraft. 

a downward 

nothing to write home about. Not 

worthwhile. This phrase appears to have 
been a Briticism adopted by Americans 
during the war. Here is how it was de- 
fined in Ward Muir's Observations of an 
Orderly (1917): "Miserable conditions in 
the desert or in the trenches, bad accom- 
modation, doubtful food — anything that 
cannot arouse the faintest enthusiasm of 
any sort — these, in the lingo of the much- 
travelled and stoical troops, are 'nothing 
to write home about.' " 


ft • 

O.B. Observation balloon. 

Ocean Villas. Auchonvillers, France. 

O.D. (1) Officer of the day. (2) Olive 
drab. Mark Sullivan, in Our Times, Vol. 
5, Over Here (1933), describes it as fol- 
lows: "The color of an Army shirt before 
it is worn over six weeks or sent to the 

O.D. pill. A pill, olive drab in color, 
taken as a physic. 

officers' papers. Cigarette papers that 
are bought separately, in contrast to those 
that come filled with tobacco. 

off the tail. Said of an airplane that is 
picked off from its position at the end of 
a formation. 

O.F.'s. Offensive hand grenades (i.e., 
those thrown at the enemy). 

oil can. A German trench mortar shell; 
so-called because of its canlike shape. 

oil slick. A telltale mark left by a sub- 
marine on the surface of the water. 

Oil Slick— A Verbal Novelty 

The Saturday Evening Post for October 1 2, 
1918, discussed the term: 

The submarine when running close be- 
neath the surface leaves what is known 
as an "oil slick." That is, the oil that is 
discharged in the exhausts floats on the 
top of the water in tell-tale streaks, and 
where there is an oil slick there also is 
likely to be a destroyer. 

"Oil Slick" is American terminology. 
The British Admiralty did not approve of 
the use of the term at first, but nobody 
in the Admiralty could present a better 
descriptive phrase, so now it is officially 
recognized, but with due British reser- 

old. An adjective used by both the Brit- 
ish and Americans to indicate what J. B. 
Priestley called a "half-affectionate fa- 
miliarity," as in a trench song that con- 
tained these words about a missing 

It's hanging on the old barbed wire. 
I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em 
Hanging on the old barbed wire. 

Old "Fighting 69th." The 165th Infan- 
try of New York. 


old file. An old officer. 

Old Hickory Division. The 30th Divi- 
sion. Colonel J. K. Herr, in The New York 
Times of March 2, 1918, had this to say 
about the unit: 

The division is constituted of National 
Guard troops of North Carolina, South 
Carolina, and Tennessee, augmented by 
many thousands of selective draft troops 
from the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, 
Minnesota, North Dakota, North Carolina, 
South Carolina, and Tennessee. The Divi- 
sion was dubbed "Old Hickory" after the 
warrior and statesman Andrew Jackson, 
who was so closely identified with the his- 
tory of the states furnishing the major por- 
tion of the personnel. 

According to Eugene S. McCartney, in 
Slang and Idioms of the World War 
(1929), this division was frequently 
called the Wildcat Division, because its 
men came largely from the same states 
that supplied the 81st Division (see wild- 
cat division). 

Its insignia was a blue monogrammed 
o surrounding an h, with three x's (i.e., 
Roman numeral for 30) forming the 
crossbar of the h. 

old issue. An old soldier. 

old man. The captain of a company. Ar- 
thur Guy Empey, in Over the Top (1917), 
says he is called '"the old man' because 
generally his age is about twenty-eight." 

Old man Joss. The patron saint of all 
submarine men. 

olive oil. Au revoir ("good-bye," in 

One O'clock. A nickname for the Ger- 
man general Heinrich von Kluck. 

one-up. A lance corporal who wears 
one stripe. 

one-winger. An air or combat observer, 
who wears a one-winged badge. See also 


on official terms. Not on speaking 
terms, except officially. 

on the carpet / on the mat. Hauled 
before an officer to answer questions 
about possible misdeeds. 

on the cot. Refraining from drink; "on 
the water wagon." 

on the pegs. Under arrest. 

on the tack. See on the cot. 

on the wire. Said of a man who cannot 
be found, suggesting that he might be 
dead and hanging on the barbed wire at 
the front. 

oojiboo. A "gadget"; a "thingummy"; a 

opener. A cathartic pill. 

orderly bucker. A soldier who strives 
by extra neatness of appearance to be 
designated as an orderly for the com- 
manding officer. 

orderly room. A company office. 

orphan. A soldier who fails to get an 
attractive mademoiselle to give him 
"French lessons." 


O'Ryan's Roughnecks / O'Ryan's 
Traveling Circus. The 27th Division. 
See empire division and hobnail express. 

ou-la-la girl. A French girl; from a 
French exclamation of glee. 

outfit. Almost any Army unit or group 
of soldiers. "I have yet to see a drunken 
American private in Paris," wrote Eliza- 
beth Frazer, in the Saturday Evening Post 
for November 2, 1918. "For the most part 
they are to be seen in groups of twos or 
threes, 'gangs' or 'outfits' as they call 
themselves, strolling about the streets." 

outlaw. An unruly horse; a Cavalry 

out of the trenches by Christmas. A 

rallying cry of those who wanted to end 
the war relatively quickly. A hater of war, 
Henry Ford failed with his 1915 "peace 
ship" effort to get the boys "out of the 
trenches by Christmas." 

over the hump / over the lump. Be- 
yond the halfway point in one's period 
of enlistment. 

over there. France and other allied Eu- 
ropean nations. 

over the top. An order directing the 
troops to jump out of the trenches and 
attack the German lines. Traditionally, it 
was accompanied by the phrase, "With 
the best o' luck and give 'em hell." It was 
the British who mostly used "over the 
top," while the Americans mostly used 
"jump off." 

The term "over the top" found many 
applications in civilian life. Here is an 
early example from the Daily News of 

Greensboro, North Carolina (March 13, 
1919): "He pleaded that those who went 
over the top in bond drives and in giving 
money to support the war relief work 
again go over the top in the cause of the 
Kingdom of God." 


pacifist. One opposed to the use of 
force as a means of settling international 
disputes. In Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929), Eugene S. McCartney 
notes: "This is an emergency war word 
and does not appear in the dictionaries 
printed before the war." 

Pacifist — How to Cope 


Arthur H. Weston, in The Nation of Au- 
gust 16, 1917, addressed himself to 
dealing with this new term: 

Theoretically, there is no question but 
that we should say "pacificist" and "pac- 
ificism," just as we say "publicist" and 
"Catholicism." But a false sense of 
analogy has made itself felt in this case. 
People think of economic, economist- 
lyric, lyrist; philanthropic, philanthro- 
pist; and so they say pacific, pacifist. The 
analogy is false because "pacific," as 
mentioned above, is formed with the 
suffix -fie and not with the suffix -ic, 
which usually represents the Greek 
-ik6s. It is common, though not invari- 
able, in the case of these words derived 
from the Greek, for the -ic to be dropped 
before the -ist or -ism is added. So that, 
although we are quite justified in say- 
ing "heroism" instead of "heroicism," we 
ought not to say "pacifism," but "pacifi- 
cism." There is no sense in cutting off 
the -ic of -fie and leaving the lone f re- 
maining. Added to the false sense of 


analogy is a phonetic reason of some 
weight. "Pacifism" is shorter and easier 
to say than "pacificism," and the con- 
traction avoids one of a rather disagree- 
able series of sibilants. 

pals battalion. An American or Brit- 
ish unit in which men who joined the 
Army together could stay together dur- 
ing their enlistment. 

pancake. To stall or slow down a drop- 
ping airplane while keeping the ma- 
chine parallel to the ground; to land flat. 

panic party. A demonstration of alarm 
or panic on board a mystery ship in order 
to trick the commander of a submarine 
into coming alongside. When a mystery 
ship was torpedoed, the panic party took 
to the boats, apparently abandoning the 
vessel, but leaving a crew on board to 
man the guns. 

Panther Division. The 36th Division; 
so-called while it was in training at 
Camp Bowie, Texas. See also lone star di- 

According to The New York Times of 
December 29, 1918: "The 36th Division 
had as its insignia the picture of a 
fighting panther and below it were three 
Latin words that translated into English 
meant: 'We'll do it in spite of Hell.' Of 
course it was christened the 'Panther Di- 

pants rabbits. Lice; cooties; chats. 
Paradise. Paris. 
pass. To die. 

pass the buck. To shift responsibility 
to another. Here is how the term was dis- 
cussed by Frederick Palmer, in Collier's 
of April 19, 1919: 

He did not "pass the buck," as they say 
in the army, which means that you shift 
the responsibility to another fellow. The 
phrase which is particularly applicable to 
the army system in peace time probably 
originated in the old poker-playing days of 
the frontier. It is possible to keep "passing 
the buck" in a circle for a long time if no- 
body finds "openers." 

Pathfinder Division. The 8th Division, 
which was organized at Camp Fremont, 
California, in December 1917. Its insig- 
nia was a gold arrow pointing upward, 
running through a white figure eight. 

pay a drill. To perform an extra drill 
as punishment. 

P.B.I. Poor bloody infantry. According 
to Notes and Queries for December 1918, 
the predominantly British "P.B.I." was 
"applied by the weary 'foot-slogger' to 
himself, seeing that he gets a greater 
share of the kicks than, and the fewest 
halfpence of, any arm of the service." 

peace-time trench. A trench in a 
quiet sector. 

Pennsylvania Division. The 28th Di- 
vision; also known as the iron division 
and the keystone division. 

Percy. A type of German naval artillery. 
As G. V. Williams wrote in With Our 
Army in Flanders (1915): "A certain Ger- 
man long-range naval gun, whose shells 
have the peculiarity of bursting before 
you hear them arrive." 


persuader. (1) A short club with a nail- 
studded head used to induce prisoners 
to follow. (2) A bayonet. 

In World War II, this term was used to 
mean virtually any weapon. 

picture show. A big battle. 

piece. A rifle, especially one used in 

pie-up. A crash; a smash. 

pie wagon. A ship's prison; so-called 
because no pie was served to prisoners. 

pig nose. A French gas mask preferred 
by British and American troops to those 
issued by their own armies. 

pillbox. A small, low structure of rein- 
forced concrete, with very thick walls 
and roof, employed as a minor fort. Pill- 
boxes were developed by the Germans 
for use in their "elastic" defense and em- 
ployed as machine-gun nests. 

Writer Floyd Gibbons described them 
in the New York Tribune of September 
9, 1917: "The cement dries and hardens 
quickly, and when finished presents a 
solid yard of reinforced concrete in all 
directions. In these shelters machine- 
gun crews and quotas of 40 front-line 
reserves are safe from any shelling 
except a direct hit from a 10-inch high- 
explosive shell." 

pillow. A balloon shaped roughly like a 
pair of rectangular wings and used as a 
target by airmen. 

pill rollers. The hospital corps. 

pills. A surgeon. 

pimple. A hill. 

pineapple. (1) A type of bomb; so- 
called because of its shape and the criss- 
cross pattern of lines marking off the seg- 
ments into which it bursts. (2) A type of 
German aerial torpedo; so-called be- 
cause of its shape. (3) A light trench 

pink. To strike with a bullet. 

pipe down. To cease talking; to 
shut up. 

pipsqueak / popsqueak. (1) A shell; 
an onomatopoeic name. Wrote R. Derby 
Holmes in A Yankee in the Trenches 
(1918): "The 'pop-squeak' is a shell that 
starts with a silly 'pip,' goes on with a 
sillier 'squeeeeee,' and goes off with a 
man's-size bang." (2) A temporary sec- 
ond lieutenant; from the diamond- 
shaped insignia called a "pip" that was 
used by the British to indicate rank. 

pistol light. A rocket shot from a pistol. 

Pistol Pete. See ricochet officer. 

Plymouth Division. The 12th Divi- 
sion; so-called because it was recruited 
mainly from the New England states. 

pocked. Pitted with shell holes. Land 
frequently shelled bore some resem- 
blance to the face of a person who has 
had smallpox. 

pogey bait. Candy; any kind of sweets. 

poilu. A French soldier at the front. The 
term means "hairy" in French and al- 
ludes to the traditional thick whiskers 


worn by the soldiers of the French in- 

police. To clean up. See also kitchen 


politician. (1) A sailor having a "soft" 
job, such as compartment cleaner, store- 
room keeper, jack-of-the-dust, yeoman, 
or signal boy. These are known as "po- 
litical jobs." (2) A soldier with a job 
that excuses him from assemblies and 

pom-pom. A small antiaircraft gun, es- 
sentially a large-caliber machine gun; so- 
called because of the noise it makes. 

pop off. To rant; to criticize; to brag. 

porridge pot. A spent shell. 

possum playing dead. A dud shell; 
used by Americans from the South. 

pot hole. A shell hole. 

pound one's ear. To sleep; a Navy 

pow-wow. A conference of senior offi- 
cers; from the Algonquin Indian term for 
a ceremony. 

Prairie Division. The 33rd Division, 
composed of men from the Illinois Na- 
tional Guard. It was also known as the 
Illinois division and the yellow cross di- 

profiteer. To take advantage of wartime 
conditions for purposes of gain; formed 
on the analogy of "commandeer." 

prop. A propeller. 

prune picker. A Californian; a Navy 

pull his belt. To confine a sentry for a 
breach of the regulations in the guard 

pumfrits. Fried potatoes; from the 
French pommes /rites. 

pump handle. A salute; from the stiff, 
snappy character of the salute. 

punish. To shell; a translation of the 
German strafen. See also strafe. 

punk. Bread. This word was used in 
New York breadlines before the war. 

pup. A type of airplane. The pup was 
described at the time as being "of minute 
dimensions, playful temperament and 
powerful disposition." 

pup tent. A small tent. Here's how it 
was described in Collier's of April 21, 

Each man in the United States Army and 
in the National Guard carries half a shelter 
tent for use in the field. Half a tent consists 
of a sheet of canvas about five by eight feet, 
a jointed tent pole, five metal tent pegs, and 
a length of cotton line. When a halt is 
reached, each pair of men set up their tent 
poles, stretch the line as a ridge, tie their 
canvas sheets together, and peg them down 
as a cover. The result is familiarly called a 
"pup" tent. 

push. An attack in force; a major of- 

push and pull / push pull. A sighting 
and aiming drill. 

posh off. To go; to leave. 

push up the daisies. To have been 
killed and lie buried in France. 

put a sock in it. Be quiet (as if one had 
a sock stuffed into one's mouth). 

put dots on one. To bore; to tire. 

put in a bag. Killed; wrapped in a 

put the wind up. To make afraid. See 


putts. Puttees, or wrapped leggings. 
See also puttee, under the Spanish- 
American War era. 

P.X. Post exchange. 


a • 

Q-boat / Q-ship. A decoy vessel used 
to lure German submarines to destruc- 
tion. Q-boats were equipped with gun 
mountings concealed beneath hatchway 
covers and masked by deckhouses that 
collapsed at the jerk of a lever. They were 
also known as mystery ships and "queer 
q's." The reason for the letter "q" is elu- 
sive; perhaps it came from "question" or 
"queer." The German equivalents were 
known as "trap ships." 

O.M. Quartermaster. 

quiet sector. An area of the front 
where, by mutual consent of the oppos- 
ing forces, there was little or no fighting. 
The quiet sectors were south of Verdun 

and were used by the U.S. to prepare 
green troops for the "noisy sectors" and 
bring the war weary, as Robert Leckie 
puts it in The Wars of America (1965), 
"to rest, to gorge themselves on cheese, 
sausage, fresh bread, and low-priced 
wines, and to try to forget the nightmare 
of battle." 

quimp. Unsoldierly; slack. 

quirk. A pupil; a term used by aviators. 

• Tfir R 6 • 

racker. A hard-trotting horse. 

radish. A bogus communist. The term 
was defined in the Literary Digest of 
January 10, 1920: "A 'Radish,' Bolshe- 
vistically speaking, is ... a man who fer- 
vently professes devotion to the 
Communist cause while harboring a se- 
cret longing for its overthrow. In other 
words, he is 'red' on the outside, but 
'white' within, and that makes him a 

railroad trains. Certain kinds of very 
large shells; from their size and sound. 

Rainbow Division. The 42nd Division, 
composed of men from twenty-six states 
and the District of Columbia; it was 
among the first divisions to land in 
France. Its insignia was a red, yellow, and 
blue rainbow. 

ranked out. Compelled to vacate by a 
senior (e.g., "to be ranked out of 


rathskeller. A dugout; from the Ger- 
man Ratskeller (a basement restaurant 
or tavern). 

rations. Bombs for an airplane. 

rat tail. A mule; presumably, because 
its tail lacks hair. 

Rattlesnakes. A nickname for the 
369th Negro Regiment, of New York. 

read one's shirt. To search for lice in 
one's shirt seams. 

rear. A toilet; a latrine. 

Red Baron, the. Manfred von Richtho- 
fen (1892-1918), the top German ace. 
who shot down eighty allied planes be- 
fore he was killed in combat. He was also 
called the Red Knight and the Red Devil. 
All these names derive from the fact that 
he flew a bright red Albatross biplane, 
not because he had red hair or spilled so 
much blood, as has been alleged by 

The Red Baron Lives 

The Red Baron legend became part of 
popular culture with the 1930 publica- 
tion of The Red Knight of Germany, by 
Floyd Gibbons. Here is an example of 
Gibbons's purple prose: "Into the grisly 
story of the World War there came a re- 
freshing gleam of the chivalry of old, 
when the pick of the flower of youth on 
both sides carried the conflict into the 
skies. Into the Knighthood of the Blue, 
Richthofen has been given a place of 
highest merit by those he fought with 
and against." 

Such period movies as Hell's Angels 
and Dawn Patrol, as well as serials, fea- 

tured thinly disguised von Richthofen 
characters. "Hell's Angels" was the 
name given to a World War II bomber 
and, on March 1 7, 1 948, to the notori- 
ous motorcycle gang. 

Red Diamond Division. The 5th Divi- 
sion. Says the Literary Digest of May 31, 
1919: "Two derivations of this unit's 
nickname are given. The first is as fol- 
lows: 'Diamond Dye — it never runs.' The 
second derivation is quoted from a staff 
officer and states, 'The Red Diamond rep- 
resents a well-known problem in bridge- 
building — it is made up of two adjacent 
isosceles triangles, which make for the 
greatest strength.' " 

red eye. Catsup. 

Red Knight. See red baron. 

Reds. Communist revolutionaries 
Russia and Germany. 


red tab. A British staff officer; so-called 
from the bright red tabs worn on either 
side of the collar to indicate rank. 

red tape. Official formality; the close or 
excessive observance of forms and rou- 
tine in the transaction of business. See 
also under the Civil War. 

regimental monkey. A drum major. 

regular feller. A shipmate who is a 
good sport. 

repeaters. Beans; sausages. The term 
refers to the gas these foods produce. 


rest-camp. A cemetery. The following 
is from the Literary Digest of March 29, 
1919: "The German snipers were very ac- 
tive, now and then killing or wounding 
one of us. At one time a trench-mortar 
shell hit so close to my hole in the 
ground, that I was completely buried and 
for a moment or two I thought I was go- 
ing to a rest-camp." 

rest in pieces. R.I.P. (on military 
graves). Arthur Guy Empey, in Over the 
Top (1917), notes that the term was used 
especially "if the man under the cross 
has been sent West by a bomb or shell 
explosion" (in other words, if the man 
had been blown to bits). 

re-up. To reenlist. The term is thought 
to be a blend of "reenlist" and "sign up." 

ricco. A ricocheting bullet. 

ricochet officer. An officer used for 
emergency jobs. The following paragraph 
appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 
of November 24, 1918: 

camp kearney, cal.— Two new bits of army 
slang have come into use here. The latest 
one is "ricochet officer." A "ricochet offi- 
cer" has nothing to do with the artillery 
range, it was explained, neither does he at- 
tempt to restrain glancing rifle bullets on 
the small arms target ranges. He merely 
"ricochets" from one job to another within 
the camp, "pinch-hitting" wherever the 
need for officers may exceed the supply, or 
serving in such temporary organizations as 
the casual company or recruit-receiving 
battalion. The other term is "Pistol Pete," 
and it is applied to any "hard-boiled guy" 
who is unapproachable, belligerent, a mar- 
tinet or unduly strict with his men. 

rig in your booms. Put down your el- 
bows; an expression used at mess in 
the Navy. 

rise and shine. Turn out of your bunks 
and get moving. 

riveter. A machine gun. 

rob de night. A nightgown; from the 
French robe de nuit. 

rookie / rooky. A raw recruit. In 1917 
General John J. ("Black Jack") Pershing 
took a look at two battalions of raw re- 
cruits and proclaimed: "They are sturdy 
rookies. We shall make great soldiers out 
of them." But the pioneer in using this 
term may have been Rudyard Kipling, in 
Many Inventions (1893): "You can't drill, 
you can't walk, you can't shoot . . . you 
awful rookies." 

rooty. Bread. 

Rosalie. One's bayonet. 

rubber heel. A shell that gives no 
warning of its approach. 

rumble. To annoy; to anger. 


it • 

salvage. To steal. 

salve. Butter. 

Sam Browne. A military belt worn by 
officers; by extension, an officer. As Lau- 
rence Stallings points out in The Dough- 
boys (1963), the troops jested about the 
belt because it allowed French prosti- 
tutes to identify officers, who were likely 
to have more cash than the soldiers with- 
out one. Stallings quotes a soldier song 
of the war in which "Sam Browne" is a 


verb and the noun "love" is a eu- 

They say that love is a blessing, 

A blessing I could never see, 

For the only girl I ever loved 

Has gone and made a sucker out of me. 

She can Sam Browne out of Bordeaux, 

She can Sam Browne all over Paree, 

She can love herself to death in the A.E.F. 

But she'll never find a sucker like me. 

The belt is named after its originator, 
General Sir Samuel Joseph Browne, an 
English officer prominent in the early In- 
dian campaign and the Indian mutiny, 
who lost an arm in the battle of See- 
porah. It was the loss of the arm that 
caused him to devise a new sort of saber 
belt. Colonel T. Bentley Mott says of him, 
"He devised it in the 'seventies, along 
with a leather covered scabbard of the 
same color for the sword. The whole af- 
fair was inconspicuous in battle and 
looked smart on khaki uniforms." 

The belt saw its first wartime use in 
the British expedition to Afghanistan in 
1879. It was then used in the Boer War 
(1899-1902), and in 1914 the British ex- 
peditionary force brought it to France. 
One by one the allied armies adopted it 
during the war, and now practically 
every fighting man and woman officer in 
the world wears one. 

Sammy. An infantryman; a doughboy. 
The name is evidently the result of an 
effort to find a cousin for tommy and was 
suggested by the nickname Uncle Sam. 
The appellation was utterly lacking in 
spontaneity, so it is not strange that 
American troops strongly objected to it. 
In Stars and Stripes of March 29, 1918, 
an editorial is headed "Down with 

A Canadian account of 1918 gives the 
following apocryphal origin of the name: 

"The welcoming French shouted enthu- 
siastically 'Vive les amis,' pronounced 
'Veev lay zammie,' and the soldiers 
thought that instead of cheering their ar- 
riving friends, the crowds were giving 
them a nickname referring to Uncle 

Sammy heaven. Paris. 

sand. Sugar; a Navy term. 

sand and specks. Salt and pepper. 

sandbag Mary Ann. That's all right; 
don't worry about it. The following is 
from Notes and Queries of October 1918: 

Mary Ann started her career as Fairy 
Ann in the well-known phrase, Celane 
Fairy Ann, which is army French for Cela 
ne fait rien, one of the half-dozen items 
necessary for conversing with the re- 
maining natives. Fairy Ann, not being suf- 
ficiently homelike for old soldiers, 
becomes Mary Ann; while — owing either 
to cherished idols at home being protected 
by sandbags or to the ignorance of the "18- 
pounders" (as the underage recruits are af- 
fectionately called) when Sammy apolo- 
gizes to Tommy for pushing past him in 
the trenches — the cryptic phrase, "Sandbag 
Mary Ann," is more readily uttered and 
understood than the conventional "That's 
all right, chum." 

sand rat. A soldier or officer on duty 
in the rifle pit at target practice. Eugene 
S. McCartney defines the term as follows, 
in Slang and Idioms of the World War 
(1929): "a man who at target practice sig- 
nals a miss when you are sure you have 
made a 'Bull.'" 

Sandstorm Division. The 34th Divi- 
sion, composed of troops from Iowa, 
Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. 


Says Eugene S. McCartney in Slang and 
Idioms of the World War (1929): "Trained 
in Camp Cody, where sand storms sifted 
grit into almost every meal, they come by 
their name honestly." Its insignia was a 
red bovine skull superimposed on a 
dark field. 

sauce. Gasoline. 

sausage. (1) A German. (2) A military 
observation balloon shaped like a 

sawbones. A regimental doctor. 

S.C.D. Surgeon's Certificate of Disabil- 
ity (a paper given to a soldier who is un- 
fit for duty when he is discharged from 
the Army). 

school of the soldier. The fundamen- 
tals of Army life, drilled into recruits be- 
fore being sent overseas. 

scooter. A motor-driven handcar used 
for quickly traveling about an Army sup- 
ply base. 

scrap. An engagement; a fight (even a 
major battle). 

scrap of paper. A broken promise, 
treaty, or pledge. At the beginning of the 
war the British government decided to 
make the violation of Belgium a casus 
belli. The German chancellor hastened 
to Sir Edward Goschen, the British am- 
bassador at Berlin, and made an appeal 
to have England disregard the Belgian 
treaty, referring to it contemptuously as 
a "scrap of paper." 

To this Eugene S. McCartney adds, in 
Slang and Idioms of the World War 

(1929): "It is interesting to note that 
when the German Chamber of Deputies 
protested to Emperor William I that the 
expenditure of funds without their sanc- 
tion was a breach of the Constitution, the 
ruler dissolved the Chamber, and boldly 
declared that he would do his duty with- 
out regard to 'pieces of paper called con- 
stitutions.' " 

Among British and American troops, 
the phrase came to be used ironically — 
a death notice might be referred to as a 
"scrap of paper." 

scrounge. To appropriate; to misappro- 
priate. In Behind the Barrage, published 
shortly after the war, British writer G. 
Goodchild discusses the term: 

In the category of "odd jobs" came 
"scrounging." "Scrounging" is eloquent ar- 
myese; it covers pilfering, commandeering, 
"pinching," and many other familiar terms. 
You may scrounge for rations, kit, pay, or 
leave. Signalers are experts at it, and they 
usually scrounge for wire. Scrounging for 
wire is legitimized by the War Office, and 
called by the gentler name of "salving." We 
were informed that it was our duty to 
economize in the cost of the war by salving 
the wire that was disconnected by shell 
fire, or which appeared to be serving no 
useful purpose. We had first to "tap it" on 
the line with a field telephone, and if we 
got no response the wire was ours. . . . We 
made "scrounging" a daily affair, and not 
infrequently "scrounged" wire that was not 
disconnected and belonged to other bat- 

British in origin, this term was eagerly 
accepted by Americans and by the time 
of World War II was seen by many as 
pure G.I. See also under World War II, 
and scrounger, under the Korean War. 

seabag. A type of large shell. 

sea dust. Salt; a Navy term. 


sea gull. (1) A Navy airman. The term 
dates from 1914, at the Naval Air Station 
at Pensacola, Florida. (2) Chicken; a 
Navy term. 

sea hornet. A destroyer. 

sea lawyer. (1) A Navy man who be- 
lieved himself omniscient on things na- 
val, including shipboard rules and law. 
(2) A troublemaker; a malcontent. 

Sears and Roebuck lieutenant / 
Sears and Roebuck loot. A new offi- 
cer (i.e., one recently commissioned, 
usually a second lieutenant). The allu- 
sion is to the idea that the commission 
has come by mail order, as if ordered 
from a Sears, Roebuck catalogue. 

seconds. An extra helping of food. 

sector. That portion of the front lines 
occupied by a battalion. 

sent up with the rations. Common; 

sewed in a blanket. Dead and buried. 
shackles. Army stew; thick soup. 

shag. French or other foreign tobacco; 
from its shaggy, rough cut. 

shake a mean lip. To tell irrespon- 
sible stories; to indulge in "a mean line 
of chatter." 

shavetail. An officer recently gradu- 
ated from West Point; a second lieuten- 
ant. In the Quartermaster Corps young, 
unbroken mules were also known as 

"shavetails." See also under the Spanish- 
American War era. 

shellitis. Initial horror and fear of war. 
The term came into play in the fall of 
1917 when a letter from American ambu- 
lance driver Lawrence Copley Thaw to a 
girl back home was published. Thaw, a 
man of wealth who had been known as 
"the boy with the $25,000 allowance," 
wrote of the "shellitis" that baptized 
American soldiers with the shock of 

shell shock. Battle fatigue. 

Shell Shock 

It was immediately thought that these 
conditions were the result of violent con- 
cussions occurring in the vicinity, and 
the striking but misleading term of 
"shell shock" came into being. The name 
was applied to all queer nervous and 
mental symptoms, and these patients 
suddenly acquired considerable notori- 
ety. . . . The nervous symptoms included 
under the misleading and forbidden 
term, "shell shock," are not called war 
neuroses, or simply nervousness. They 
are known to be similar to peacetime 
neuroses, and they are peacetime neu- 
roses with a war-time colouring. 

— Frederick W. Parsons, Atlantic 
Monthly (March, 1919) 

When famed British war poet Sieg- 
fried Sassoon died in 1967 at age 
eighty-one, obituaries noted that he had 
been honored for his bravery in combat 
but — after throwing his Military Cross 
into a river — had been sent to a sanato- 
rium for victims of shell shock. 

she said there'd be days like this. A 

phrase expressing a fatalistic attitude; a 


direct reference to "mama said thered be 
days like this." 

shimmy. A shirt or blouse; from the 
French chemise. 

shirt hunt. A search for cooties; one 
who conducts such a search is known as 
a "shirt explorer." See also the entries 
beginning with "cootie." 

shivoo. A party; from the French chez 
vous ("your house"). 

shock dump. A corrugated iron Army 

shoestring corporal. A Marine lance 
corporal, who wears one stripe on his 

shot. An inoculation. 

show. A military action. The following 
discussion appeared in the Saturday 
Evening Post of May 25, 1918: 

Anything in the nature of a thrust or a 
blow delivered against the enemy is a 
show. A great offensive on a wide front is 
a big show; a raid by night into hostile ter- 
ritory is a little show; a feint by infantry, 
undertaken with intent to deceive the 
other side at a given point while the real 
attack is being launched at a second given 
point, and accompanied by much vain 
banging of powder and much squibbing-off 
of rockets and flares and star-shells, is a 
Chinese show. 

shrap. Shrapnel. 

shrapnel. Grape Nuts (the cereal). 

sick bay. A ship's hospital. 

sicker. A sick report from a medical 

sidekicker. A sleeping companion; a 
bosom chum. 

Sightseeing Sixth. The 6th Division. 
"This division is reported to have 
marched more than any other in the 
A.E.F. and was known as the 'Sight- 
seeing Sixth,'" reported the National 
Geographic for December 1919. "The in- 
signia is a six-pointed star in red, and is 
frequently seen with the figure '6' super- 
imposed on the star, but that was never 

silent Sue / silent Lizzie. A shell that 
gives no warning of its approach. 

silver plate. Please. From the French 
s'iJ vous plait. 

sink. A toilet; a latrine. 

sinker. A dumpling; a doughnut. 

six for five. The practice of lending 
someone five dollars and getting back six 
dollars on payday. 

six-sixty. A punishment of six months 
in the guardhouse and a fine of sixty 

skee. Whiskey. 

skilligalee / skilly. A stew of whatever 
leftovers are available. 

Skilligalee Described 

The best thing in a fixed camp is the 
stock-pot — a large covered pot or enam- 
elled pail is reserved for this and noth- 
ing else. Into it go all the clean fag ends 
of game, head, tails, wings, feet, gib- 
lets, large bones, also left-overs of fish, 


flesh and fowl of any and all sorts. 
Vegetables, rice or other cereals, maca- 
roni, stale bread, everything edible ex- 
cept fat and grease. The pot is always 
kept hot. Its flavors are forever changing, 
but ever welcome. It is always ready, 
day or night, for the hungry varlet who 
missed connections, or who wants a bite 
between meals. No cook who values his 
peace of mind will fail to have skilly 
simmering at all hours. 

— The Outpost Cook, by Captain 
Joseph W. Gosling (1917) 

sky pilot. An Army chaplain. 

slackers' paradise boat. A submarine 
patrol boat; an ironical description. 

slum / slumgullion. A stew composed 
chiefly of meat, potatoes, and onions. Ca- 
dets at West Point used to refer to hash 
as "slumgudgeon." See also under the 
Civil War. 

small ticket. A dishonorable discharge 
from the Navy. A big ticket was an hon- 
orable discharge. 

Smash the Hun. A Navy slogan. 

smoke a thermometer. To have one's 
temperature taken. 

smoke screen. Smoke created for the 
purpose of concealment. In the report 
The Enemy Submarine, by the U.S. Naval 
Consulting Board (May 1, 1918), the tac- 
tic is described: 

Under favorable conditions of wind and 
position many vessels have saved them- 
selves from torpedo attack by the produc- 
tion of a smoke screen. This may be formed 
either by incomplete combustion of the oil 
used for fuel by most naval vessels, or it 

may be created by burning chemicals, such 
as phosphorus and coal tar, or mixtures in 
which both of these and other materials 
are used. 

smoke wagon. A gun of the field ar- 

snake eyes. Tapioca. 

snap out of it. To get out of one's bunk. 
The phrase is discussed in the Saturday 
Evening Post of December 21, 1918: 

The captains transmitted their orders to 
their respective companies by a wave of 
their hands, while the sergeants and corpo- 
rals emphasized the command to rise with 
sharp injunctions to "Snap out of it!", "Hit 
the deck!", "Rise and shine!", and other 
such nautical tricks of expression, all of 
which were traditionally sacred in this or- 
ganization (the U.S. Marines), which, en- 
trained or afloat or afield, never permitted 
itself to forget that it was essentially a sea- 
faring set of men. 

snipe. A fireman in the black gang. 
Says Logan E. Ruggles in The Navy Ex- 
plained (1918): "In a gang of snipes be- 
low, there is generally one dude who is 
known as the 'king snipe.'" 

An earlier, possibly related meaning of 
snipe is "a contemptible person." 

sniper. A concealed sharpshooter 
whose duty it was to pick off enemy sol- 

snow digger. A man from the New En- 
gland states. 

so-called salt. A dry-land sailor. 

S.O.L. Strictly out of luck; soldier out 
of luck (in print and politely, but really 
"shit out of luck"). Mark Sullivan, who 


discusses it as "soldier out of luck" in 
Our Times, Vol. V, Over Here (1933), says 
it is an "expression used of one who is 
late for mess, has lost his hat-cord, or 
been given thirty days' confinement to 
the post for shooting crap." 

soldier. To serve; to shirk. 

soldier's one percent. One hundred 

soldier's supper. Nothing; that which 
does not exist. 

solo. To fly alone. 

solo-hop. A solo flight. 

Somewhere in France. The only re- 
turn address allowed by military censors 
on letters mailed from anywhere in 

Somewhere in France 

James M. Beck writes in Defenders of De- 
mocracy (1917): 'The war has enriched 
our language with many new expres- 
sions, but none more beautiful than that 
of 'Somewhere in France.' To all noble 
minds, while it sounds the abysmal 
depths of tragic suffering, it rises to 
the sublimest heights of heroic self- 

The following poem by John Hogben 
appeared in the Spectator of September 
25, 1915: 

"Somewhere in France" — we know 
not where — he lies, 

Mid shuddering earth and under an- 
guished skies! 

We may not visit him, but this we say: 

Though our steps err his shall not miss 
their way. 

From the exhaustion of War's fierce 

He, nothing doubting, went to his 

own place. 
To him has come, if not the crown 

and palm, 
The kiss of Peace — a vast, sufficing 


sootbox. A German artillery shell that 
emits black smoke upon exploding. 

soup gun. A rolling kitchen. 

souvenir. (1) A shell. (2) A penny or a 
morsel of food. The term was used by 
French children when begging. 

sow belly. Bacon. 

Spad. A small biplane. The aircraft is 
described by Bertram W. Williams in 
Scientific American of October 6, 1917: 
"Till recently the French pinned their 
faith on an improved and speedier type 
of the well-known Nieuport, a mono- 
plane upon which many records were 
made in the early days. Still faster is the 
'Spad,' a tiny biplane." 

Spanish flu. Influenza, in the epidemic 
of 1918-1919, which caused more 
deaths than did the war itself. 

spare. At leisure; off duty. 

spick. A Hispanic person. Logan E. 
Ruggles discusses the term in The Navy 
Explained (1918): "A Mexican or Span- 
iard, or any dark-skinned people are 
known to the navy men as spicks. 
It was, some years ago, almost always 
called spiggoty, but since the days of 
abbreviations, spick. The term is said 
to have originated during the Spanish- 
American War." 


The term was used in the Army also, 
especially on the Mexican border. 

spiderweb. A wire entanglement. 

splash. Flying splinters from the inside 
of a tank wall, caused by the impact of 
bullets striking the outside. The Atlantic 
Monthly of December 1918 reported: 

While bullets do not penetrate the armor 
(of tanks), but only ruffle it up a bit at the 
point where they are deflected, a great deal 
of bullet "splash" does come in. This is 
more annoying than serious, and after an 
action one could pick out any number of 
these tiny splinters from one's face. So, as a 
means of protection against "splash," face- 
armor was invented. This looks much like 
a bandit's mask, with a steel-mesh chain 
hanging from it. The mask itself is of thin 
steel, with slits for the eyes, the whole pad- 
ded for the face and adjustable to it. 

splinter house. A corrugated iron shel- 
ter that splinters when hit by enemy fire. 

splitass. To do stunt flying; to fly in a 
reckless manner. 

splitass merchant. A reckless individ- 
ual; an expert stunt flier. 

spotter. (1) A soldier who telephones 
ranges to gun crews. (2) An airman en- 
gaged in locating enemy guns or subma- 

spruce. To deceive; to tell tall tales. 

spudhole. A guardroom (akin to the 
dank place where potatoes [spuds] are 

square head. A German. Eugene S. 
McCartney, in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929), writes that this was "a 

term which was very popular with the 
Americans of 1917-1918. This is a trans- 
lation of the French expression tete 
carree but the term appears in English as 
early as 1589 and was used by thieves to 
mean an honest man." 

squeeker. A young courier pigeon. An 
explanation of the need for young birds 
appears in the collection Stories of 
Americans in the World War (1918): 

How can Uncle Sam break the pigeons 
he buys for service in France of their in- 
stinct to return to the United States? He 
cannot. Once a homer is settled it is no 
good to our government except for breed- 
ing purposes. The only birds useful for 
courier purposes are those that are brought 
into service before they are old enough to 
settle. These are eight weeks old or less, 
and are called "squeekers." 

stand-to. A special time in the morning 
and in the evening. The term is dis- 
cussed by H. R. Peat in Private Peat 
(1917): "The name given to the sunrise 
hour, and again that hour at night when 
every man stands to the parapet in full 
equipment and with fixed bayonet. After 
morning stand-to, bayonets are unfixed, 
for if the sun should glint upon the pol- 
ished steel, our position would be dis- 
closed to some sniper." 

star light. A flare. 

stars and stripes. Beans with bacon; 
so-called because of the striped appear- 
ance of the bacon served with the beans. 

star shell. A rocket used to light up no- 
man's-land at night. 

start arguin', bastards. An expres- 
sion of mock provocation. 

100 • WAR SLANG 

stone frigate. A prison ashore; from 
the fact that worn-out boats were once 
used as prisons. 

Stonewall Division. The 81st Divi- 

stop. To be hit by a bullet or shell 

storm cellar. A dugout. 

stove lizard. One who likes to hang 
around the stove at the Y.M.C.A. or Red 
Cross canteen. 

strafe. To punish; from the German 
stra/en. The word was so greatly ex- 
tended that soldiers could speak of 
"strafing" a fly. The word is used also as 
a noun (e.g., "Next strafe we 'ave, 'ell's 
goin' to pop for fair"). See also under 
World War II. 

straggler barrage. A cordon of mili- 
tary police who follow the infantry over 
the top and prevent any straggling to- 
ward the rear. 

straight kick. A summary discharge by 
the commander of a vessel. 

strategic retreat. The German high 
command's explanation of the retire- 
ment from the Somme in the spring of 
1917. Eugene S. McCartney, in his Slang 
and Idioms of the World War (1929), 
adds this definition: "During the follow- 
ing year there was a tendency to give the 
expression a slang connotation, and to 
use it when a person yielded a point or 
receded from a position he had taken." 

strawberries. Prunes. 

striker. A soldier who works for an of- 
ficer. See also dog robber, under the 
Civil War. 

strip. To reduce in rank. 

sub. A submachine gun; a submarine; 
a substitute. 

submarine. (1) A bedpan; a urinal. (2) 
A duck. 

submarine shark. A salmon. 

Sugar Sticks. The Ordnance Corps. 

Suicide Club. The Machine Gun Corps. 
British writer Captain Herbert W. 
McBride, in The Emma Gees (1918), 

During the early part of the war, before 
the advent of the Lewis and other auto- 
matic rifles, the only machine guns in gen- 
eral use were of the heavy tripod-mounted 
type and it was necessary for them to ad- 
vance with or even ahead of the attacking 
troops. As the guns and tripods were very 
conspicuous objects, they naturally be- 
came the especial targets for enemy ri- 
flemen and snipers and the casualties ran 
far above the average for other troops. 

suicide ditch. A front-line trench. 

suicide fleet. The small boats of the 
American Patrol Squadron in European 
waters. According to an article in the Lit- 
erary Digest of March 22, 1919: 

In boats that were never expected to fight, 
the largest of them hardly more than seven 
hundred tons gross, many of them so deli- 
cately balanced that the weight of the sin- 
gle gun they had to carry was almost 
enough to turn them topsy-turvy, any of 
them sure to be instantaneously distrib- 
uted over the sea if touched by a torpedo, 

WORLD WAR I • 101 

life is likely to be a precarious and brief 

Sunset Division. The 41st Division, 
composed of troops from Washington, 
Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. Its insig- 
nia was a setting sun of yellow on a field 
of red. 

Sunshine Division. The 40th Division, 
composed of troops from Arizona, Cali- 
fornia, Colorado, and Utah. Its insignia 
was a shining sun of gold on a blue field. 

S.W. Shell wound. As Arthur Guy Em- 
pey puts it in Over the Top (1917): "What 
the doctor marks on your chart when a 
shell has removed your leg." 

swamp. To put on airs; to show off. 

swing the lead. To boast; to exag- 

In their early days, tanks were often 
referred to as "military tanks." 

• * T 


tadpole. A small French child. 

tail-end Charlie. The last aircraft in a 

tailor-made. A ready-made cigarette. 

take another blanket / take on. To 

reenlist within three months of one's dis- 

tank. An armor-plated motor vehicle 
operated by a crew and armed with a 
cannon and machine guns. Tanks were 
first used by the British on September 
15, 1916, in the battle of the Somme. 

Tales of the Tank 

Major General Sir E. D. Swinton, the in- 
ventor of the tank, explains the origin 
of the name in World's Work for Septem- 
ber 1917: 

Quite a large part of the earlier stage 
of manufacture would consist of the roll- 
ing of steel plates and their assemblage 
and erection into boxes, which to all ex- 
cept those who made a close examina- 
tion might well be intended for vessels 
to hold water, petrol, or oil. The fact that 
the boxes would be bullet-proof would 
merely lend color to the idea that they 
might be intended to move up into the 
fighting zone. This theory would not 
necessarily be discredited even when 
the stage of fitting them with engines 
and caterpillar tracks was reached. It 
would not be until the time for mount- 
ing the armament that the real purpose 
must become plain, up to which an alias 
might to some extent conceal it. "Reser- 
voir" and "Cistern" were long-winded 
and clumsy; 'Tank" was equally accu- 
rate and shorter. And 'Tank" it became. 
As a matter of fact, various rumors 
about the new machines were current 
among those who got wind of them. 
One was that they were intended to 
carry water for the troops across the des- 
erts of Egypt and Mesopotamia. A sec- 
ond hinted at snow-ploughs for use on 
the Russian front. It is perhaps unneces- 
sary to say that no special trouble was 
taken to contradict these yarns. It was 
also bruited about that experiments had 
been made in some wild-cat scheme 
which had failed absolutely. 

Additional information is provided by 
Brevet Colonel J. F. C. Fuller in Tanks in 
the Great War (1920): 

Up to December 1915, the machines 
now known as "tanks" were, in the ex- 
perimental stage, called "landships" or 

102 • WAR SLANG 

"land cruisers," and also "caterpillar 
machine-gun destroyers." 

On December 24 ... it occurred to 
Colonel Swinton that the use of the 
above names would give away a secret 
which it was important to preserve. 
After consultation with Lieutenant- 
Colonel W. Dally- Jones, assistant secre- 
tary of the "Committee on Imperial De- 
fence," the following names were 
suggested by Colonel Swinton — "cis- 
tern," "reservoir," and "tank," all of 
which were applicable to the structure 
of the machines in the earlier stages of 
manufacture. Because it was less 
clumsy and monosyllabic the name 
"tank" was decided on. 

Swinton invented the tank, but its 
propelling principle was that of the 
"caterpillar" farm tractor, invented 
about 1900 by Benjamin Holt of Stock- 
ton, California. 

taxi. To drive an airplane along the 
ground without rising into the air or in 
order to acquire sufficient speed to as- 
cend. Here is the explanation given to 
readers of the February 1919 issue of 
American Boy: 

The plane bumped across the rough 
ground, acting very much like an automo- 
bile, nosing this way and that as Sidmore 
sought and finally found the direction of 
the wind. This maneuvering along the 
ground was known, in the slang of the 
camp, as "taxi-ing," being designed as a fi- 
nal test of the motor and other parts before 
leaving the earth. 

T-bone steak. Tenderloin steak; from 
the fact that the cut contains a T- 
shaped bone. 

teakettle / teapot. A French loco- 

tell it to the Marines. A phrase that 
expresses doubt. Arthur Guy Empey dis- 
cusses it in First Call (1918): "An old 
army phrase used when a man is trying 
to get away with a fishy statement. The 
marine is half soldier and half sailor. He 
generally receives his preliminary train- 
ing on land; after that, on a ship. Upon 
arriving on board the sailors tell him 
many impossible tales and he is sup- 
posed to believe them." 

In spite of the origin and meaning of 
this expression, it was employed in re- 
cruiting posters in slightly altered form: 
"Tell that to the Marines." See also under 
the Civil War. 

terps. An interpreter; especially im- 
portant in dealings with the French. 

third lieutenant. See dovetail. 

three beans. Very good; very well; 
from the French tres bien. 

three-point landing. An airplane land- 
ing in which both wheels and the tail hit 
the ground at the same time. 

three-thirty. A punishment of three 
months in the guardhouse and a fine of 
thirty dollars. 

thumbs up. A phrase or gesture mean- 
ing everything is fine. It is a popular idea 
that the Romans held their thumbs up 
when a defeated gladiator was to be 
spared, but classical scholars are by no 
means unanimous on this point. In Over 
the Top (1917), by Arthur Guy Empey, it 
is noted that the phrase or gesture is 
"Very seldom used during an intense 

WORLD WAR I • 103 

tick. To complain; to find fault. 

tickler. A hand grenade. 

tick off. To administer a reproof. 

ticky. Tending to find fault or to com- 

tie bags. To get married; from the fact 
that Navy chums used to tie their seabags 
together on the same jack stay, or rod to 
which sails are affixed. In the old Navy, 
to "tie bags" with a man meant to hang 
out with him. 

tin derby / tin dip / tin hat. A steel 
helmet. The first American wearers of 
steel helmets in battle were a group of 
Marines, on August 13, 1917. 

tin fleet. Pleasure boats refitted and 
armed as submarine hunters. 

Tin Lizzie. A Model-T Ford, especially 
the Ford ambulance in combat areas. 
Laurence Stallings writes in The Dough- 
boys (1963): "I was thinking of the blood 
that dripped upon my face from the boy 
above me in the Tin Lizzie." 


'Tommy" was familiar to readers of Rud- 
yard Kipling long before the war. Kip- 
ling's Barrack-Room Ballads is, in fact, 
dedicated "To T.A.," and one stanza of 
the poem "Tommy" runs as follows: 

While it's Tommy this an' Tommy 
that, an' 'Tommy, fall be'ind," 
But it's "Please to walk in front, 
sir," when there's trouble in the 
There's trouble in the wind, my 

boys, there's trouble in the wind, 
O it's "Please to walk in front, 

sir," when there's trouble in the 
The Philadelphia Public Ledger of Au- 
gust 24, 1919, explains the origin of 
the name: 

It happened in this way. The war office 
issued a little note-book to the men re- 
questing each one to fill out the little 
blanks in the front as to name, age, date 
of enlistment, etc. So that they would 
not make any mistakes a copy of the 
front page was filled out properly in 
each book under the name of Tommy 
Atkins. It did not take long for the name 
to stick to all the soldier boys, and it is 
today as significant of the English 
fighting man as John Bull is of En- 
gland itself. 

tinned cow. Condensed milk. 

tin willie. (1) Canned corn beef. (2) A 
Ford ambulance. 

Tommy. See Tommy Atkins. 

Tommy Atkins. A British soldier. The 
term was used by the soldiers them- 
selves, the English people, and Ameri- 
can soldiers. 

toot and scramble. All together; from 
the French tout ensemble. 

tootfinny. All finished; everything done. 
It is from the French tout finis. 

toothpick. A bayonet; in imitation of 
the French curedent ("toothpick"), which 
was French slang for a bayonet. In the 
same spirit, Americans on the frontier in 
the midnineteenth century would call 

104 • WAR SLANG 

a large fighting knife an "Arkansas 

toots sweet. Hurry up; look sharp. It is 
from the French tout de suite. 

top cutter / top kicker / top sergeant / 
top soldier. A first sergeant. 

torp. A torpedo. 

torpedo plane. An airplane designed 
to launch self-propelled torpedoes. The 
torpedo plane was invented by Rear Ad- 
miral Bradley A. Fiske, in 1912. 

toy shop. The factory in France where 
decoy papier-mache soldiers and various 
camouflaged objects were made. 

trace beans. Very good; very well. It is 
from the French tres bien. 

treat 'em rough. Handle the machin- 
ery roughly. This was the motto of the 
Tank Corps during the war. 

trench. A type of military excavation. 
The term is defined in Over the Top 
(1917), by Arthur Guy Empey: "A ditch 
full of water, rats and soldiers." 

Paul Fussell wrote about a number of 
"trench" constructions in The Great War 
and Modern Memory (1975): "Of the 
trench words like trenchmouth, trench- 
foot, trenchkni/e, and trenchcoat, only 
trench fever has not survived. Trench- 
coat (originally Burberry) has recently 
spawned the adjective trenchy to de- 
scribe a trend in women's clothing: 'This 
year it's the trenchy look.'" Fussell adds: 
"In the Sunday Times Magazine for Au- 
gust 8, 1972, a caption celebrating the 
vogue of the trenchy announces that 
'Fashion Goes Over the Top.'" 

trench broom. A machine gun. An ex- 
planation of this term appears in John 
Ellis's The Social History of the Machine 
Gun (1975): "In the summer of 1918 the 
first working model of the Thompson 
submachine gun had appeared. The gun 
had been designed by Colonel J. T. 
Thompson specifically as a weapon for 
trench warfare, and he dubbed it the 
'trench broom' to be used in close quar- 
ter combat when troops were trying to 
clear an enemy trench." 

trench derby. A helmet. 

trench dreams. Fear, especially the 
fear that one will show cowardice. 

trench fever. A malady of the front 
whose symptoms included fever, aches, 
pains, and homesickness. 

trench foot. A disease of the feet con- 
tracted in the trenches from exposure to 
extreme cold and wet. P. Giggs wrote of 
the condition in The New York Times for 
April 6, 1919: 

In winter, when the water was ice cold, 
it may be imagined what our men endured. 
They were always wet. They slept in wet 
clothes, sat in wet dugouts, stood in wet 
boots, and the cold slime of mud in Flan- 
ders encased them, and put its clammy 
touch about their very souls. In the first 
two winters of the war, they were stricken 
with a disease called "Trench Foot." Its 
symptoms were exactly like those of frost- 
bite, a sense of burning until all sense was 
deadened and the feet blackened and rot- 
ted. Battalions lost 40 per cent of their men 
for a time from this cause, and in the old 
Ypres salient I have seen men of the 49th 
(Yorkshire) Division crawling back from 
the trenches, or carried pick-a-back by 
their comrades, unable to walk a yard, and 
with both feet tied up in cotton wool at the 
field ambulance. 

WORLD WAR I • 105 

The term had analogues in later wars, 
including the jungle rot of World War II 
and the paddy foot of the Vietnam War. 

trench horrors. 

fear of same. 

Fear and cowardice, or 

trenchitis. A combination of fedupness 
and homesickness, as defined in Over 
the Top (1918), by Arthur Guy Empey 

trench moppers. Troops hunting for 
Germans concealed in German trenches. 

trench mouth. A disease that causes 
ulceration and bleeding of the gums. It is 
caused by A.P.C. (adenoidal-pharyngeal- 
conjunctival) viruses. Here is a descrip- 
tion that appeared in the British news- 
paper The Mail, on May 1, 1918: 

We have trench mouth just as we have 
trench feet. Otherwise known as ulcero- 
membranous stomatitis, or Vincent's dis- 
ease, it has for some considerable time now, 
engaged the attention of both the medical 
and the dental services. The result of a ba- 
cillus that causes ulceration and bleeding 
of the gums, it occurs on the German as 
well as on our side of the war zone. A satis- 
factory method of treatment has been dis- 
covered, the painting of the gums with 
salvarsan or an arsenical solution, and a 
cure is generally effected within two or 
three weeks' time. The Germans credited 
their war bread as one of the contributory 
causes, a cause that up to the present is 
absent from the British war zone. 

Trench Mouth 

After the war, "trench mouth" was ap- 
plied to civilians so affected, although 
it is not as commonly heard now as it 
once was. The malady was linked to 
kissing and even thought to be a sexu- 
ally transmitted disease. In the San 
Francisco Examiner of October 2) , 1 969, 

a mother wrote this appeal to a medical 
advice columnist: 

My husband and I are terribly upset 
because our daughter has developed a 
severe case of trench mouth. 

The attitude of her classmates in the 
senior year of high school makes her 
feel as if she has a venereal disease. 

I hope you can tell your readers that 
this is not so. 

When war breaks out the term is still 
relevant. A Washington Post dispatch of 
February 21, 1991, from the Persian 
Gulf on the health of the soldiers 
fighting there contains this line: "The 
Army calls it 'trench mouth' and it hap- 
pens when soldiers at war neglect to 
brush their teeth for days." 

trench talk. Military slang. 

trench warfare. Warfare conducted 
from relatively permanent positions in 
trenches. It was the dominant form of 
warfare for the final four years of the war. 
In American football, intense interior 
line play has been called "trench war- 
fare," and thoSe that play there are said 
to be "in the trenches." 

tres bon / tres bong. 

the French tres bien. 

Very good; from 

trick. A turn at sentry duty. The word 
was borrowed by the Army from sea- 
men's language, in which it meant a turn 
at any task or duty. 

triple. A German Fokker triplane. 

troops. Foot soldiers. 

tube. A kind of dugout. It was de- 
scribed by J. S. Smith in Over There and 
Back (1918): "If you took half a subway 

106 • WAR SLANG 

car, stuck it in the ground, and covered 
the top with two or three feet of earth, 
you would have a 'tube' dugout. Inside 
are seats as in the subway, and through 
the center runs a rudely constructed 

tune up. To make a final inspection and 
adjustment of the parts of an airplane be- 
fore flying. 

turn off the juice. To shut off an en- 
gine. "Juice" means "gasoline." 

two and a butt. An enlistment period 
of under three years. "Butt" means a por- 
tion of a year. 

two-twenty. A punishment of two 
months in the guardhouse and a fine of 
twenty dollars. 

two-winger. A pilot, who wears a two- 
winged badge. See also one-winger. 

typewriter. (1) A machine gun. (2) A 
manual lawn mower. 

used up. Killed. 

• it V * * 

venereal list. A list of men with vene- 
real diseases. They were not allowed to 
go on leave until they were removed from 
the list by a medical officer. 

Very light. A kind of flare fired from a 
pistol; named after the inventor. 

victory. The downing of an enemy 
plane in combat. During World War II, 
this term was replaced by "a kill." (This 
fascinating semantic change was pointed 
out in the obituary of Charles Dolan, the 
last member of the Lafayette Escadrille, 
in The New York Times of January 2, 1988.) 

victual office. The stomach; from the 
long-established term (sometimes pro- 
nounced as "vittles") for food. 

vinegar blink. White wine; from the 
French vin blanc. 

• it [J it 

u-jah. See cum-sah. 

up against the wall. The position of 
a man about to be shot by a firing squad; 
by extension, anyone in a desperate po- 

upstairs. In flight. 

Upton Division. The 77th Division; so- 
called because it trained at Camp Upton, 
on Long Island. See also liberty division 
and melting-pot division. 

viper. See maggot. 

Von Hutier tactics. The system whereby 
a spent division would not fall back as 
customary, but as explained in Homer 
Randall's 1919 novel, Army Boys on the 
Firing Line, "simply opened up and let 
a fresh division pass through and take 
up the burden." 

von Wooden burg. A nickname of the 
German general Paul von Hindenburg. 
"We would inquire after the health of old 
'Von Woodenburg,' old 'One O'clock,' 
the 'Clown Prince,' or 'One Bumstoff,'" 
wrote H. T. Peat, in Private Peat (1917). 

WORLD WAR I • 107 

These parodies referred to von Hinden- 
burg, Heinrich von Kluck, the Crown 
Prince, and Johann von Bernstorff, re- 

vulture. See goopher. 

• # vv * * 

WAAC. A member of the British 
Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. The 
U.S. would not have a women's Army 
corps until the next war, but Americans 
were fascinated by the concept, as indi- 
cated by this account by Hamilton Holt 
in the December 14, 1918, Independent: 

Here we saw hundreds of "Waacs" and 
"Penguins" working. England is the only 
nation that has allowed women in her 
army, unless it be Russia and her Battalion 
of Death. The Waacs (Woman's Auxiliary 
Army Corps) consists of many thousands 
of British women who have enlisted in the 
army, wear a regular khaki uniform, and 
live under strict military discipline. At 
least twenty thousand of them serve close 
behind the front lines in France as wait- 
resses, housekeepers, clerks, chauffeurs, 
stenographers, etc., while many more are 
stationed in post all over England. 

waders. Rubber hip boots. They were 
of especial importance in the ever- 
waterlogged trenches. 

wagon soldier. A light artilleryman; a 
field artilleryman. 

waltzing Matilda. An Australian sol- 
dier; from the Australian anthem, 
"Waltzing Matilda." 

wampus.. An insect inhabitant of oat- 
meal and other dry foods. By the time of 
World War II, the following claim could 

be made by Francis Raymond Meyer, in 
Fighting Talk (1942): "Scrupulous clean- 
liness and sanitation now makes the 
wampus about as rare as the dodo bird." 

wangle. To obtain by whatever means 
necessary. It was one of the war words 
commented upon in the Spectator (Sep- 
tember 21, 1918): "Now, contrary to what 
might have been expected, the war has 
not depreciated the lingual currency. It 
has indeed circulated camouflage and 
strafe but provided they are not natural- 
ized and remain merely denizens, they 
may be serviceable, while 'carry on' actu- 
ally supplies a word that was badly 
missed. Nor do we object to wangle." 

The word also turned up in an article 
by Samuel G. Blythe in the Saturday 
Evening Post of October 19, 1918: "And 
wet — always, always wet, unless the 
weather is clear and the sea is calm — 
but good sea boats. They [the submarine 
chasers] wangle through somehow. They 
weather it out." 

war baby. (1) A child, legitimate or il- 
legitimate, fathered by a soldier. (2) On 
Wall Street, a factory producing goods 
for the war that showed sudden and 
spectacular profits. 

war of attrition. A characterization of 
the trench war on the western front, in 
which a tremendous price in casualties 
was paid for tiny advances in territory — 
territory that was often given back a few 
days later. 

washed out. Killed. 

washout. (1) A failure; something of 
no account. This expression began in the 
British navy and then crept ashore to 

108 * WAR SLANG 

land in the trenches, where it was used 
by both the British and the Americans. 
The term appeared in the Atlantic 
Monthly of January 1919: "At the end of 
the week you will be given an examina- 
tion. Those who do well will remain 
with the tanks; the washouts will go back 
to the infantry." 
As a verb, "wash out" means "to fail." 
(2) A day on which aircraft are not 
sent up. 

wave. A line of men advancing side by 
side over the top. The waves were often 
numbered — first wave, second wave, etc. 

W.D. War Department. 

weary Willie. A German shell that ap- 
proaches with a "nerve-racking whine." 

weed ration. An issue of tobacco and 

Western Division. The 89th Division. 


westerner. One who maintained that 
the only way the war could be won was 
with a decisive victory at the western 
front. See also easterner. 

wet canteen. A military saloon. In this 
sense, "wet" means that the sale of alco- 
holic beverages is permitted, whereas 
"dry" means it is prohibited. 

wet nurse. One who tests a gun "under 
the special direction of the inventor or 
promoter" (according to Eugene S. 
McCartney, in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War [1929]). 

we we town. Paris; from the French 
oui, oui ("yes, yes"). 

whacked. Exhausted; played out. 

what-for. Punishment. The New York 
Times of March 2, 1919, reported: "To 
give an enemy 'What-for' was to play the 
very mischief with him." 

whee. A big shell; an onomatopoeic 

whispering Jimmy. A howitzer shell. 

whispering Willie. A large German 
shell that traveled at a velocity so high 
that one hardly heard it in its flight. 

white hope. A German high-explosive 

white ink. White wine. 

white lightning. Corn whiskey; so- 
called because of its color and its "kick." 
The drink was also known as "gray 
mule" and "white mule." 

white man. A good and brave man. The 
term was used by both British and 
American troops and was almost cer- 
tainly racist in origin. British writer T 
Tiplady discusses it in The Soul of the 
Soldier (1918): 

In the army it is a term of supreme praise 
to call a man white. When you say a com- 
rade is a white man, there is no more to be 
said. It is worth more than the Victoria 
Cross with its red ribbon, for it includes 
gallantry, and adds to it goodness. A man 
must be brave to be called white, and he 
must be generous, noble and good. To 
reach whiteness is a great achievement. To 
be dubbed white is, in the army, like being 
dubbed knight at King Arthur's Court, or 
canonized saint in the Church. He stands 
out among a soldier's comrades distinct as 
white handkerchiefs among khaki ones. 

WORLD WAR I • 109 

white mule. Corn whiskey; so-called 
because of its color and its "kick." The 
drink was also known as "gray mule" 
and "white lightning." 

whizz-bang. A high-velocity antiper- 
sonnel schrapnel; an onomatopoeic 
name. R. Derby Holmes describes the de- 
vice in A Yankee in the Trenches (1918): 
"The 'whizzbang' starts with a rough 
whirr like a flushing cock partridge, and 
goes off on contact with a tremendous 

whutt. A bullet; an onomatopoeic de- 
scription. In Between the Lines (1915), 
B. Cable writes: "When a bullet whistles 
or sings past, it is a comfortable distance 
clear; when it goes hiss or swish, it is too 
close for safety; and when it says whutt 
very sharply and viciously, it is merely 
a matter of being a few inches out 
either way." 

wigwag. To signal with flags. 

Wildcat Division. The 81st Division, 
composed of men from Florida, North 
Carolina, South Carolina, and Puerto 
Rico; also known as the Stonewall Divi- 
sion. According to Eugene S. McCartney, 
in Slang and Idioms of the World War 
(1919): "The name has also been fre- 
quently applied to the Thirtieth (Old 
Hickory) Division, because the men in it 
came largely from the same states. The 
name is due to the fact that a small 
stream which flows through Camp Jack- 
son, S.C., where the unit was organized, 
is called Wildcat Creek." Its insignia was 
a cat on a disk, with the color of the cat 
varying according to the brigade. 

wildcat trains. Trains that the Belgians 
sent into the German lines outside Ant- 
werp at the beginning of the war. 

Wild West Division. The 91st Divi- 
sion, composed of troops from Alaska, 
Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Ore- 
gon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. 
Its insignia was a green fir tree. 

wild woodbine. A cigarette "com- 
posed of glue, cheap paper, and a poor 
quality of hay" (according to R. Derby 
Holmes, in A Yankee in the Trenches 
[1918]). "Woodbine" is a generic name 
for several honeysuckles and creepers. 

will-o'-the-wisp. A shell. 

win. To steal; to lift; to scrounge; to ob- 
tain by other than fair means. "I won 
it," was a common expression in the 

windjammer. A trumpeter; a bands- 

windy. A coward. 

Wipers. Ypres, France. 

wire, the. Barbed wire. 

wobbler. An infantryman. 

wolf. A daredevil pilot who does stunts 
near the ground. 

Wolverine Division. The 14th Divi- 
sion; so-named because wolverines were 
once very common in Michigan, where 
the division was organized. The head of 
a wolverine appears on the insignia. 

110 • WAR SLANG 

woodbine. (1) An English soldier. 
(2) See wild woodbine. 

wood butcher. A company carpenter. 

wooden shoe factory. A derisive name 
for a French village dance. 

woolly bear. A shell that on exploding 
gives out dense black smoke and rolls 
about in such a manner as to suggest the 
animal for which it is named. 

work one's ticket. 


To feign illness or 

WRENS. Woman's Royal Naval Service. 
The WRENS were attached to the British 
navy and, like the WAACs, attracted 
much American attention. 

• a Y * * 

Yankee Division. The 26th Division, 
composed of New England troops; also 
called the New England Division. Its in- 
signia was a dark blue yd monogrammed 
on a khaki diamond. 

Yankee heaven. Paris. 

Yank Tommy. An American soldier in 
the British army. 

yard bird. A guardhouse prisoner. 

yellow cross, mustard gas; probably 
from the yellow crosses that appeared on 
the shells and containers in which it 
was stored. 

Yellow Cross Division. The 33rd Divi- 
sion, composed of troops from the Illi- 

nois National Guard. The name is 
derived from its insignia, a yellow cross 
on a black circle. According to Eugene S. 
McCartney, in Slang and Idioms of the 
World War (1929): "The colors of this di- 
vision were due to the fact that only yel- 
low and black paints were available 
when it became necessary to mark the 
equipment in Texas before leaving for 

It was also known as the Illinois divi- 
sion and the prairie dd/ision. 

yellow leg. A cavalryman; from the tra- 
ditional yellow trouser stripe. 

yellow ticket. A dishonorable dis- 
charge; from the color of the paper on 
which it was printed. 

you'll find it on the payroll. A phrase 
said when a soldier loses a piece of 
equipment, referring to the fact that the 
cost of the item will eventually be de- 
ducted from the man's paycheck. 

you must come across. Y.M.C.A. 

young Charlie. A haversack. 

youngster. A young officer; a first or 
second lieutenant. 

your number. Fate (e.g., a bullet that 
has your number on it). It alludes to the 
small metal disk with a personal serial 
number, worn by all American soldiers 
and sailors. 

* * z * * 

zepp. A zeppelin. 

WORLD WAR I • 111 

zeppelins in a cloud. Sausage and 
mashed potatoes. 

zero / zero hour. The time fixed for an 
attack. The time before or after was spo- 
ken of as a certain number minus or plus 
zero or zero hour. 

zero day. The day fixed for an attack. 

zigzag. Drunk. 

zing. Pep; vim. 

zoom. To make an aircraft climb at an 
extreme angle for a short distance and 
then resume a level course before the ma- 

chine stalls. This description appeared 
in Century for January 1919: "My trouble 
now was to 'zoom' over the fringe of trees 
and fences. There was a heartbreaking 
moment when I thought that I was going 
to be 'hung up' on a tall treetop, but the 
gallant old girl rose to the occasion, and 
the leaves seemed just to graze my 
wheels. I breathed a stupendous sigh of 

See also under World War II. 

Zouave. A cook. For a vastly different 
meaning, see under the Civil War. 

zowie. So forth and so on. 




Empey, Arthur Guy, First Call. G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1918. (A very important collection 
of "American Army Terms" by one of the most well-read American participants in the War.) 

, Over the Top. G.P Putnam's Sons, New York, 1917. (This is essentially a compilation 

of British trenches slang — which the author says, "... Tommy Atkins uses a thousand 
times a day as he is serving in France" — but is a most valuable reference.) 

Fraser, Edward, and John Gibbons, Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases: including slang of 
the trenches and the air force; British and American war-words and service terms and 
expressions in everyday use; nicknames, sobriquets, and titles of regiments, with their 
origins; the battle-honours of the Great War awarded to the British Army. E.P Dutton & 
Co., New York; 1925. 

Funk and Wagnalls War Words, Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1915. 

Fussell, Paul, The Great War and Modern Memory, Oxford University Press, New York, 1975. 
(The chapter "Oh What a Literary War" has much on the use of language and euphemism 
in describing the war.) 

Hargrave, Basil, Origins and Meanings of Popular Phrases and Names, including those which 
came into use during the World War. J. B. Lippincott Co., Phila., 1925. 

Holmes, R. Derby, A Yankee in the Trenches, Little Brown, and Co., Boston, 1918. 

Lawson, Don, The United States in World War I, Scholastic, New York, 1963. 

112 * WAR SLANG 

LITERARY DIGEST: These articles graphically followed the slang of the War: "Active-Service 
Slang," 50:907, "How War Enriches Language," 50:1081-1082, "French Soldier-Slang," 
52:643, "Slang of the Airmen," 54:1957 and the most important "Recruits' Primer of Trench 
Idiom," October 27, 1917. 

MacDonald, Lyn, The Roses of No Man's Land, Atheneum, New York, 1989. 

McCartney, Eugene S., Additions to a Volume on the Slang and Its Idioms of the World War, 
Michigan Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1929. (For purposes of brevity I have called this 
Slang and Idioms of the World War in the body of the text. This is the most important 
reference on American slang of the War and was used more than any other single reference 
in preparing this chapter. The word "additions" in the title refers to the addition of Ameri- 
can slang to the Fraser and Gibbons volume which is overwhelmingly British in emphasis. 
This reference is extremely hard to locate and the author has used copies in the Library 
of Congress and the Boston Public Library.) 

McKnight, George H., English Words and Their Background, D. Appleton and Company, New 
York, 1923. 

Randall, Homer, Army Boys on the Firing Line, The World Syndicate Publishing Co., New 
York, 1919. 

Reynolds, Quentin. They Fought for the Sky, Holt, Reinhart and Winston, New York, 1960. 

Ruggles, Logan E., The Navy Explained, Appleton, New York, 1918. 

Smith, C. Alphonso, New Words Self-Defined, Doubleday, Page and Co., Garden City, New York, 
1919. An extremely important reference which provided many of the newspaper and maga- 
zine quotations used in this chapter. 

Springs, Elliott White, Nocturne Militaire, New York, Grosset and Dunlaps, 1927. 

Stal lings, Laurence, The Doughboys, Harper and Row, New York, 1963. 

Sullivan, Mark, Our Times: The United States, 1900-1925, Vol. V, Over Here, 1914-1918, 
Scribner's, New York, 1933. 

Swann, Captain Carroll J., My Company, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1918. 

Weseen, Maurice H., Dictionary of American Slang, Thomas Y Crowell, New York, 1934. 

Winter, J. M., The Experience of World War I, Oxford University Press, New York, 1989. 





G.l.'s, Jeeps, Kilroy, and V-Signs from Two Theaters of War 


I hree quotations from three different sources serve as a good introduction 
to the slang of World War II, a period of unprecedented linguistic experimen- 
tation and innovation. 

"Tell that apple knocker to stop bull-dogging the belly-robber's bomb heaver 
or he'll soon be a China clipper, the big zombie!" 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is soldierese. It means: 

"Tell that upstate hick to quit dancing with the mess sergeant's beautiful girl 
or he'll soon be a dishwasher, the big clown!" 

The navy and the marines would have a slightly different way of saying this. 
But the fact is that all service men whether in khaki, blue, or field green, are 
speaking a fresh and vigorous tongue these days, one all their own. 

What does this new language imply? Some might say: "Not much." But per- 
haps they don't know their history. The new language means a lot. It indicates 
that all men are united by the words they speak. So the welding value of a fighter's 
jargon is nothing to sneeze at. 

— Fighting Talk, by Francis Raymond Meyer (1942) 

114 • WAR SLANG 

Our fighting men are makers of slang because they are adventurous individ- 
uals and they are not restricted by decorum and their taste is unlimited. Their 
hunting ground for new terms is in their native tongue as well as foreign. They 
adopt traditional devices of similitude, making attributes do work for the whole. 
They use hidden resemblances, they know no limitations and have no boundaries. 
They have substituted far-fetched figures for a hundred literary descriptions, using 
abbreviations most freely, compositions, formations of words to resemble the 
sound and picturesque synonyms. Their transfer of proper names into common 
usage has been so much "duck-soup" (that which is done with ease), giving 
remote figurative significances to the coining in question. They have enriched the 
national vocabulary with many new verbs and verb phrases. 

It must not be forgotten that our fighting men have come from all walks of 
life, that all sections and divisions of a free social order are represented and each 
man has brought the peculiar and colorful language of his section of the country 
with him. Ours is a fighting force of a hundred races and as many creeds speaking 
a language called American. 

— Words of the Fighting Forces, by Clinton A. Sanders 
and Joseph W. Blackwell, Jr. (1942) 

World War II may be remembered for a number of reasons, and probably the 
least of these is that it provided a king-size fund of new slang for the diversion 
of lexicographers. 

— "Dogfaces and Dog Soldiers," by Jonathan E. Lighter (1974) 

Every once in a while an apprentice lexicographer gets lucky and bumps 
into a bona fide Rosetta Stone, as I did with the prime source used in this 
chapter: Words of the Fighting Forces (A Lexicon of Military Terms; Phrases 
& Terms of Argot, Cant, Jargon &• SJang Used by the Armed Forces of the 
United States of America). This work, which exists only in manuscript form, 
was researched, compiled, and arranged by Clinton A. Sanders and Joseph W. 
Blackwell, Jr., and completed in September 1942. It was prepared under the 
auspices of the Language Section of the Military Intelligence Service, located 
in the Whitehall Building on Battery Place in New York. 

The original 495-page, four-volume typescript was found in the Pentagon 
library. It does not appear in other card catalogues, in bibliographies, or in 
books on World War II. It is quite likely that the copy in the Pentagon is the 
only copy. 

To say that this is a major discovery is not to overstate the case. It is a 
first-rate compilation created during the war, apparently for the use of a small 
group of officers. It "is dedicated to the fighting men of our forces on land, 
sea and in the air." 


It then moves to a disclaimer: "This compilation is offered to the United 
States War Department without fee or reward, obligation or legal responsibility 
as a contribution to the war effort." 

The introduction offers an overview of the work: 

Words of the Fighting Forces is a dictionary of military lingo, specialized 
language, argot, cant, jargon and slang used by American righting men, including 
a supplement of military terms. We hope that this shall not be classed as "just 
another slang dictionary," but a volume characteristic in general design, profit- 
ableness to some valuable end, a scholarly preparation and up-to-date information 
and accuracy. In this volume it will be found that both the English spellings in 
common usage in the United States and conventional English spellings are recog- 

Specialists have been located who have generously donated large blocks of 

Terms which are found to overlap in one branch of the service running into 
another have been classified as general usage and are not listed with a classifica- 
tion code. Terms which have distinctive meaning and belong to a particular 
branch of the service have been listed with a classification code. 

There are terms appearing herein that will no doubt "shock" the clergy, ap- 
peaser, isolationist and puritan. We offer no apology nor have we deleted a term 
or terms because of what we feared such a group would do or say. These terms 
are part of a picturesque and living language of men who live close to earth and 
closer to death, words of men who fight the battles of free men for our America 
and her Allies on remote and distant battlefields, who man our ships in dangerous 
seas, and fight up there on high. 

For convenience, and because of the importance of this source to this 
chapter, references to Words of the Fighting Forces will be by title only. 

On to the slang, with the note that this is the first war to see the large- 
scale introduction of initialisms and acronyms. While it can be argued that 
such terminology is not slang in the traditional sense of the word, it is hard 
to imagine a slang portrait of this war that did not include g.l, wac, and the 
sound of a.a. fire. 

116 • WAR SLANG 

• * A * * 

A.A. Antiaircraft; one of the war's most 
persistent initialisms. It was commonly 
used in the expression "A.A. fire." 

A.B. (1) An able-bodied seaman. (2) An 
"area bird" (a cadet walking a punish- 
ment tour in the area of the barracks). 

A.B. CD. America, Britain, China, and 
the Dutch East Indies; used in referring 
to the combined forces of these powers 
in the western Pacific. 

able. The letter a, in the official com- 
munications code. The complete alpha- 
bet was Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, 
Fox, George, How, Item, Jig, King, Love, 
Mike, Nan, Oboe, Peter, Queen, Roger, 
Sugar, Tare, Uncle, Victor, William, X-ray, 
Yoke, and Zebra. (In the Navy, a, i, n, o, 
and p were represented by Affirm, Inter- 
rogatory, Negat, Option, and Prep.) See 
ack-ack for the British alphabet. 

above the salt. Any rank above that of 
ordinary seaman. 

ack-ack. Antiaircraft fire. This bit of 
British slang was picked up by the 
Americans. The British Library of Infor- 
mation gave this explanation for the 
term: Radio communications required an 
alphabet code for words that had to be 
spelled out. In the British code, "ack" 
stood for a; thus, "ack-ack" ("A.A.") 
stood for antiaircraft fire. 

The complete alphabet in the British 
communications code was Ack, Beer, 
Charlie, Don, Edward, Freddy, George, 
Harry, Ink, John, King, London, Monkey, 
Nuts, Orange, Pip, Queen, Robert, Sugar, 

Tock, Uncle, Victor, William, X-ray, 
Yorker, and Zebra. The British used their 
alphabet for the first three years of the 
war, then switched to the American al- 
phabet for the duration and beyond. See 
able for the American alphabet. 

acorn cracker. A rustic. 

acre-foot. A rustic; a person with large 
feet. In irrigation, an acre-foot is the 
amount of water covering one acre to a 
depth of one foot (43,560 cubic feet). 

Adam with an anchor / Adam with 
a dead battery / Adam with a dead 
pan / Adam with a flickering flame / 
Adam with a frozen puss / Adam 
with a sour puss. A married man; a 
cold, unresponsive man; a gloomy, dull 

A-day. The code name for the day set 
for the landing on Leyte, in the Philip- 

A.D.C. Alaska Defense Command; 
known to many of the soldiers who 
served in it as "all damn confusion." 

admiral of the Swiss navy. A self- 
important person. 

admiral's watch. A good sleep. 

after Tokyo. A slogan adopted by sail- 
ors in the Pacific Fleet, signifying their 
belief that Tokyo should be the Navy's 
first objective (according to Newsweek of 
April 13, 1942). 

A.G. An adjutant general. 

agony buggy / agony bus / agony 
chariot / agony crate / agony hack / 
agony wagon. An ambulance. 

air can. A bomb when dropped from 
an aircraft. 

air canary. See air Jane. 

airedale. An airplane handler on an 
aircraft carrier; from the name of a breed 
of dogs. 

air goose. An amphibian airplane; 
mostly a Marine Corps term. 

airgraph mail. Letters written on spe- 
cially prepared blanks and photographi- 
cally reduced in size by microfilming. 
The films were flown to Washington, en- 
larged by the War Department, and then 
forwarded to the addressees. The use of 
airgraph mail was not mandatory, but it 
saved shipping hundreds of tons of regu- 
lar mail overseas. Airgraph mail was also 
known as "V-mail." 

air hawk. A combat pilot. 

air hog. One who flies at every oppor- 

air Jane. A female aviator; a pilot as- 
signed to fly aircraft to combat areas 
(also called a "ferry patrol" pilot), as op- 
posed to a combat pilot (invariably a 
man). Another name for an air Jane was 
"air canary." 

air Lizzie. An airplane manufactured 
by the Ford Motor Company; an allusion 
to the "tin Lizzy" (Model-T Ford 


air merchant. A talkative person. 

air rock. A disturbance of the air. 

airstrip. A hurriedly prepared landing 
strip, usually for fighter planes (ac- 
cording to Newsweek of December 7, 

airtorial. An editorial on aviation. 

albatross. Chicken — roasted, broiled, 
or stewed. 

Al K. Hall. Alcohol. 

all-American chump. A stupid person. 

all guts. A fat person; a person of 
great courage. 

all hands. Everybody; all the members 
of a squad, company, etc. The term de- 
rives from the traditional Navy call, "All 
hands on deck." 

all hot and bothered. Angered; emo- 
tional; lustful; passionate. 

alligator. A kind of amphibious armed 
vehicle, of American manufacture, de- 
signed for landing cargo and personnel; 
a landing barge. The command used to 
land these barges was, "Beach the 

alligator bait. Fried liver. 

all in the wind. Wavering (i.e., as un- 
certain as the weather). 

all-out. With full vigor, determination, 
or enthusiasm. According to American 

118 • WAR SLANG 

Speech of February 1941, it came to be 
used in such phrases as "the struggle 
still may be far short of the 'all out' air 
warfare to come"; "the twelfth raid since 
Germany began her 'all-out' assaults on 
London"; and so on. "Total," as a syn- 
onym of "all-out," is usually applied to 
activities on a larger scale (e.g., "all-out 
battle" but "total war"). 

all-outer. An advocate of an all-out pol- 
icy (as of aid to Great Britain or of na- 
tional defense). 

all the aces. First-rate; excellent. The 
term derives from the game of poker, 
which was ubiquitous among American 

all the whole cheese. A self-important 

all wool and a yard wide. First-rate; 

almond-eye. An oriental. 

alphabet job. An easy assignment or 
task; a government civilian job. The term 
alludes to the many New Deal and war- 
time agencies known by acronyms or ini- 
tialisms rather than by their full names. 

American Club. The American fighting 
forces (not to be confused with an 
American League baseball team). 

AMGOT / AMG. An allied military 
government of occupied territory. Ac- 
cording to A. Marjorie Taylor, in The 
Language of World War II (1948), the first 
AMGOT was set up by British and 
American armies in Sicily in July 1943. 

The term was shortened to AMG on Au- 
gust 25, 1943, after it was discovered that 
amgot was an unprintable word in Turk- 
ish (according to The New York Times of 
August 26, 1943). 

ammo. Ammunition. 

ammunition wife. A mistress. 

amphibious operations. Military op- 
erations involving the combined efforts 
of land and sea forces. 

anchor. A spouse. 

Andy Gump. A person with a small 
chin and a prominent nose; from the car- 
toon character of the same name. 

angel. A thousand feet in aircraft alti- 
tude. The term is radar code; thus, the 
phrase "bandit at four angels" would re- 
fer to an enemy aircraft (see bandit) at 
four thousand feet. 

angel factory. (1) A theological semi- 
nary. (2) An aviation plant employing fe- 

angels of Bataan. The Army nurses 
who served in the Bataan campaign. Un- 
til the liberation of Manila, they endured 
three years of fearful misery as prisoners 
of the Japanese. 

angel's scream / angel's whisper. A 
bugle call. 

ank. (1) An anchor. (2) To anchor. 

ankle chokers. Narrow-bottomed Ar- 
my-issue trousers. 


Ann. The Anopheles mosquito (ac- 
cording to Newsweek of October 23, 
1944). The insect carries malaria, and 
the Army conducted a drastic campaign 
against it. 

answer the last call / answer the last 
muster / answer the last roll / an- 
swer the last roll call. To be killed; 
to die. 

answer to a she-gal's dream. A male 
member of the armed forces. 

anti-gas heater. A gas mask; an Army 

antipersonnel mine. A bomb that 
sprayed a wide area with shrapnel. The 
weapon, introduced by the Germans in 
the fall of 1939, was seen as horrific, and 
the term itself served as anti-German 
propaganda. The December 1942 issue of 
Reader's Digest introduced many Ameri- 
cans to the term as a description of a 
Nazi instrument whose chief feature was 
an arrangement whereby the mine, on 
being tripped, was boosted out of the 
ground to about the height of a man's 
waist before exploding, in order to inflict 
maximum harm. 

Anzac. Australian and New Zealand 
Army Corps; a nickname given to mem- 
bers of this corps. See also under World 
War I. 

Anzio amble. A fast shuffle from one 
shelter to the next. The term undoubt- 
edly originated on the Anzio beachhead 
where, according to American Speech of 
April 1945, Americans discovered "An- 
zio anxiety" (jitters), "Anzio foot" (when 

the scream of a shell suddenly makes 
you change course), and "Anzio walk" 
(jumping and twitching to dodge shells). 

A.P.C. Armor-piercing cap (an armor- 
piercing artillery or tank cannon shell). 

ape with a frozen pan / ape with a 
sour puss. A gloomy, dull man. See 
also the terms beginning with "Adam." 

apron. A girl or a woman. 

apron chaser / apron crazy / apron 
dizzy / apron jumper / apron 
screwy. One fond of women; a seducer. 

apron with a flickering flame. A cold 
or unresponsive woman. 

apron with a nip. A virgin; a virtuous, 
respectable woman. The significance of 
the term "nip" in this context has been 
lost, but it could have something to do 
with old criminal cant in which "nip" 
alluded to the ability to open a locked 

apron with round heels. A woman of 
loose morals. 

A-ration. A balanced ration for troops 
in the field, issued by regular mess units. 

Arctic whiteout. A condition in far 
northern flying in which land features 
are camouflaged by snow and ice; earth 
and sky blend, and the horizon and all 
landmarks disappear. 

arm dropper. An artilleryman who 
gives the signal to fire the gun, by drop- 
ping his raised arm. 

120 • WAR SLANG 

armed to the teeth. Well equipped 
with firearms; alert; fully prepared; 
awake to danger. 

armored heifer. Condensed milk; from 
the fact that it comes in a metal can. 

Army Bible. Army regulations. 

Army brat. A child of an Army officer. 

Army chicken. Franks and beans. 

Army dick. A military policeman. 

Army lid. A radio operator. According 
to Newsweek of March 10, 1941, Army 
lids were so-called because they "talk 
through their hats." (In the general slang 
of the era, one's hat was a "lid.") 

Army-stitch Day. Armistice Day. 

Army strawberries. Prunes. 

Army worm. An informer; one who be- 
trays a trust. 

A.R.'s. Army regulations. 

arsenal wear. Government-issue lin- 
gerie for women in the armed forces; not 
the kind that could be bought in a de- 
partment store. 

asbestos Joe / asbestos papa. A 

Navy seaman whose duty is to wear an 
insulated asbestos suit so he can make 
rescues in case of fire aboard an aircraft 
carrier. Sometimes he was simply known 
as "the man in asbestos." 

as close as five minutes to eleven / 
as close as twenty minutes to 
eight. In love. 

ash can. (1) A shell. (2) A bomb. (3) 
A depth charge used in antisubmarine 
warfare. All of these meanings derive 
from the shape and heft of the large gar- 
bage cans used to haul ashes. 

ash-can patrol. Minelayer units; from 
the shape of the mines. 

asparagus bed. (1) An antitank obsta- 
cle; from its resemblance to the tangle of 
an asparagus patch. (2) An obstacle to 
airborne landings. See also rommel's 


asparagus stick. A submarine's peri- 

asthma. A company wit; so-called be- 
cause he's full of wheezes (jokes). 

A.T. Antitank. 

atabrine. A synthetic antimalarial drug 
used in lieu of quinine. The wide use of 
the drug was the occasion of much World 
War II humor, as in this excerpt from Ata- 
brine Times (1946), the self-published 
memoir of a soldier known only as 

Atabrine; the army's cure for gastritis, 
corn-beefitis, goldbrickitis, neuritis, neu- 
ralgia, insomnia, athlete's foot, pregnancy, 
and incidentally, malaria. It doesn't really 
cure athlete's foot though. 

In New Guinea everything was dedicated 
to Atabrine. It was Atabrine Night Club, 
Atabrine Diamond, Atabrine Boxing Ring, 
Atabrine Mess Hall, Atabrine Juke Joint, 
and many other tributes to its worthy sup- 
pressive and therapeutic powers. In front 
of our tent hung this sign: 


10 cents cover charge to keep out riff-raff 
and other insects 


at low water. Short of funds. 

atomic age. The period that began on 
August 6, 1945, with the bombing of Hi- 

Aunt Jemima. A high explosive mixed 
with flour and smuggled to Chinese 
saboteurs behind the Japanese lines; 
from the name of a popular brand of pan- 
cake mix. 

awkward squad. Men who require ex- 
tra instruction at drill. 

A.W.O.L Absent Without Official 
Leave; commonly pronounced "a-wall." 
See also under the Civil War and under 
World War I. 

Axis rat / Axis snake / Axis water- 
moccasin. A German submarine. 

axle grease. Butter. 

• •& B * * 

B.A. Busted aristocrat (a cadet officer 
reduced to the ranks). The term origi- 
nated at West Point. 

baby. Mustard; from its resemblance to 
that which comes out of the hind end of 
an infant. 

baby carriage. A machine-gun cart. 

baby elephant. A large, gray corru- 
gated-iron shelter used by the Army. 

B-ache / bellyache. To complain. 

backbiter. A tattletale. 

backbone. Moral courage; one's chief 
support; a mainstay. 

back in your hole. Return to your 
room or barracks. 

back patter / back scratcher / back 
slapper. An obsequious person; a syco- 


Underage (referring to an en- 

Baedeker invasion. The invasion of 
Sicily; from the fact that troops were is- 
sued booklets about the island. The fa- 
mous Baedeker series of travel guides 
had been popular for decades. 

Baedeker raids. Certain German air 
raids on Great Britain. The phrase ap- 
peared in the English press on April 29 
or 30, 1942, after German officials stated 
that the Luftwaffe, in attacking such cit- 
ies as Bath and Norwich, was deliber- 
ately aiming to destroy buildings of high 
historic interest (i.e., those listed in 
the Baedeker guidebooks). According to 
American Notes and Queries of Decem- 
ber 1942, the official German bulletin de- 
scribed these raids as reprisals for allied 
raids on the German cities of Cologne 
and Liibeck. 

baffle paint. Camouflage. 

bagoose. Good. Used by troops in the 
South Pacific, the term is explained in 
Atabrine Times (1946), by the pseudony- 
mous Kilroy: "If the word 'bagoose' were 
eliminated from the Malayan dialect, it 
would be completely lost. The literal 
translation means good, but it has more 
uses than our O.K. Anything not bagoose 

122 • WAR SLANG 

was 'tita bagoose.' Soon we were bagoos- 
ing everything and they were saying 
O.K. Joe." 

bags of mystery. Sausages. 

bail out. To parachute out of an air- 
plane; by extension, to get out of a situ- 
ation (e.g., to bail out on a blind date). 

bail-out ration. The smallest and most 
compact of all emergency rations (com- 
posed of a bar of d-ration chocolate, dex- 
trose tablets, concentrated bouillon, and 
chewing gum). It weighed only 8Y* 
ounces and would fit into the shirt 
pocket of an airman or a paratrooper. 

baka / baka bomb. A Japanese kami- 
kaze (suicide) airplane; a pilot of a kami- 
kaze airplane; a bomb carried by a 
kamikaze airplane. The term is from the 
Japanese baka ("stupid"; "crazy"; "fool- 
ish"). Other nicknames were "booby 
wagon," "loony Joe," and "highpockets" 
(according to Newsweek of May 7, 1945). 

bakehead. (1) A stupid person. (2) A 
member of a ship's engineering crew 
(whose brains were "baked" in the swel- 
tering conditions below decks). 

baksheesh. An air mission on which 
no enemy opposition is encountered. 

Balbo. A flight formation involving hun- 
dreds of aircraft; from the name of the 
Italian general Italo Balbo, who in 1933 
led a huge flight of airplanes from Italy 
to the United States and back. A Balbo 
is often seen at the end of a movie about 
the war. 

baldheaded. Cleared for action (said 
of a ship's decks). See also go in bald- 

ball of fire. An energetic person. 

balloon barrage. Balloons anchored 
near land objectives or attached to ships 
in convoy, to snag attacking aircraft. 
Such obstacles were also called "old 
floppies" and "flying elephants." 

balloonist. A merchant who charges 
excessive prices for his goods. 

balloon juice. Helium. 

balls of fire. See foo-fighters. 

Baltimore steak. Calf's liver. 

bam. A "broad-assed Marine" (i.e., a 
woman Marine). 

Bamboo Fleet. The Navy fleet assigned 
to the waters near the Philippines prior 
to December 7, 1941. 

bamboo juice. Wine; mostly used in 
the South Pacific. 

bandit. An enemy aircraft. See also 

bang it out. To fight; to quarrel. 

bang-up. (1) Excellent; first-rate. (2) To 
do violence. (3) To inject drugs. 

banjo. (1) A short-handled shovel. (2) 
A bedpan. 

bantam. A jeep. 


banzai. An attack cry of the Japanese; 
interpreted as a desperate or suicidal cry 
during the war. Robert Hendrickson 
writes in Encyclopedia of Word and 
Phrase Origins (1987): 

Before World War II, when the Japanese 
Navy and those of the Western powers were 
on good terms, banzai parties, or shore par- 
ties, were held where seamen from Japan 
and other nations mingled. The expression 
derives from the general Japanese felicita- 
tion, banzai, which has been variously in- 
terpreted as meaning "May you live 
forever" or "May you live 1,000 years." Dur- 
ing World War II, the once pleasant banzai 
was shouted by Japanese soldiers making 
bayonet charges. 

baptized by fire. To have been under 
enemy fire for the first time; to have re- 
ceived one's first wounds. 

B.A.R. Browning Automatic Rifle. The 
weapon was invented by John M. Brown- 
ing (1854-1926), of Ogden, Utah. Ac- 
cording to Robert Hendrickson, in 
Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Ori- 
gins (1987): 

The BAR, an air-cooled weapon capable 
of firing 200-350 rounds per minute, was 
generally assigned one to a squad. It is said 
that none of the prolific Browning's de- 
signs ever failed. These included the light 
and heavy Browning machine guns, the 
caliber .45 pistol, the caliber .50 machine 
gun, the 37mm. aircraft gun, and a number 
of shotguns and repeating rifles. Browning 
took out his first patent in 1879, on a 
breech-loading, single-shot rifle that the 
Winchester Arms Company purchased. 
After his entry into the military field, the 
U.S. Army relied almost exclusively on 
Browning's automatic weapons. 

bark. (1) To graze the skin. (2) To com- 
plain about an assignment or duty. (3) 
To cough. 

barker. (1) A heavy artillery gun. (2) 
One who complains. (3) A cougher. 

barking of the dogs of war / barking 
of the sea dogs / barking of the war 
dogs. Gunfire; a bombardment. 

barracks bag. A bag used to hold 
one's clothing and other possessions. 

barracks bags. Morning-after bags 
under one's eyes. 

barracks lawyer. An enlisted man 
well-versed in Army regulations and 
able to use them to advantage. 

barracks 1 3. A guardhouse. According 
to Slanguage Dictionary of American 
Slang (1942), it was where "they lock up 
bad little boys." 

barrack wacky. See shell shock, under 
World War I. 

barrel. A cylinder of an airplane 

basin crop. A close haircut. The term 
almost certainly derives from the notion 
of putting a bowl or basin over one's head 
and cutting off all the hair that shows. 

bathtub. (1) A motorcycle sidecar. (2) 
A ball turret. 

battery acid. Coffee. 

bat the breeze. To talk. 

battle bowler. A steel helmet; from the 
bowler, a domed hat favored by En- 

124 • WAR SLANG 

battle breakfast. Steak and eggs; a 
Navy term. Fighting Talk (1942), by Fran- 
cis Raymond Meyer, contains this pas- 
sage: "This heavy menu is actually 
served before a ship's company goes into 
battle. After eating a battle breakfast, all 
hands man battle stations with range 
finders and gun pointers warming up 
with orders from the fire control station." 

battle the watch. To do one's best in 
difficult circumstances. 

battlewagon. A battleship. 

battling bastards of Bataan. Veter- 
ans of the battle of Bataan, in the Philip- 
pines (1942). 

battling sons of the air. Airmen. 

jor Zeb Hastings. Burns later compared 
his instrument to the weapon and noted 
"both have a more or less devastating 

b-bag. A column in the soldiers' news- 
paper Stars and Stripes where letters 
from soldiers were printed. It was a good 
place in which to air grievances and 
"bitch" about the war and Army life. 

B.C. Battery commander (in the field ar- 

beachcomb. To search for female com- 

beach comber. A sailor on shore leave. 
This use derives from the earlier mean- 
ing of one who lives idly on the seashore. 

bayonet course. Hospital treatment 
for venereal diseases. "Bayonet" refers to 
the male member. 

bazooka. An antitank gun. This new 
weapon was immediately seen as a god- 
send in disabling German tanks. It used 
the rocket method of propulsion and was 
operated by two men: one man loaded 
and aimed it, and the other, who fired it, 
carried it on his shoulder. Army officials 
declared it capable of destroying any en- 
emy tank, according to an article in 
Popular Mechanics for August 1943. 

The name came from its similarity in 
appearance to the freak musical instru- 
ment known as the bazooka, which had 
been invented by comedian Bob Burns 
(the "Arkansas Traveler") and used by 
him on the radio in the late 1930s. Ac- 
cording to Stuart Berg Flexner, in I Hear 
America Talking (1976), the name was 
bestowed on the weapon in 1943 by Ma- 

beached. Without funds; mostly a 
Navy term. It alludes to a ship run 
aground and rendered useless. 

beachhead. (1) A beach where invad- 
ing forces land. (2) A fortified position 
on a beach. 

beachmaster. (1) An officer in charge 
of logistics during an invasion. (2) A 
sailor very fond of women. 

beach pounder. A member of the 
Coast Guard (i.e., one who patrols, or 
"pounds," the shore). 

beacon. A sailor's home. 

beam. (1) A constant unidirectional ra- 
dio signal transmitted from an airfield to 
guide pilots. (2) Any correct course; san- 
ity. See also off the beam and on the 



bean. (1) One's head. (2) One dollar, in 
coin or paper. (3) To strike on the head. 

bean gun. A rolling kitchen. 

bean jockey. A table waiter, on kitchen 
police duty (see under World War I). 

bean king. An Army mess officer. 

beans. A mess sergeant; a commissary. 

bean shooter. An officer in charge of 
the commissary. 

bean s pi Her. An informer; a telltale. 

Beantown special. Boston baked 

bear cat. A hard-fighting soldier. 

bearded lady. A searchlight with dif- 
fuse rays. 

beast. A cadet in preliminary training 
at West Point. 

beat all creation. To be excellent. 

beat a retreat. To withdraw. 

beat one's gums. To talk a lot. 

beat someone's ears in. To do vio- 
lence; to assault. 

beat the breeze. (1) To talk; to boast. 
(2) To travel with great speed. 

beat the can off of / beat the devil 
out of / beat the hell out of / beat 
the sap out of / beat the tar out of / 
beat to a frazzle / beat to a jelly / 
beat to a mummy. To do violence. 

beat the mill. To type. A "mill" was 
a typewriter. 

beat-up. Damaged; worn out; of unim- 
pressive appearance; completely ex- 

beat up on. To do violence. 

beaut. (1) A beautiful woman. (2) Some- 
thing first-rate; something excellent. 

become a gold star in mother's win- 
dow. To be killed in action. This al- 
lowed one's mother to become a "Gold 
Star Mother" and place a symbolic gold 
star in her window. 

bedpan commando. A medical corps- 

beef. (1) A tedious or annoying thing or 
person. (2) To complain loudly. 

beef boat. A cattle boat; a supply ship. 

beep. A jeep. 

before the wind. (1) Out of debt. (2) 
Moving in the direction of the wind; 
moving by the impulse of the wind. 

behavior report. A reply to a love 

belcher. An informer; a telltale. 

bell tent. A conical Army tent. 

belly cousin. A man who has slept 
with a woman you slept with. The term 
is of British origin. 

126 • WAR SLANG 

belly landing. An aircraft landing 
without the benefit of wheels (i.e., to 
land on the belly of the aircraft). 

belly tank. An auxiliary gasoline tank 
under the belly or wing of a plane. When 
empty, it could be released if necessary 
to lighten the load. 

below the salt. Of inferior rank; a 

Navy term. 

bend a bend / bend a corner / bend 
'er. To round a curve or corner at great 

bend the throttle. To fly an airplane or 
drive a vehicle at very high speed. 

benzine board. A board of Army offi- 
cers having authority to demote other of- 
ficers. "Benzine" is an old generic term 
for a number of highly combustible fuels 
and solvents; thus, the benzine board 
would light a fire under the demoted of- 

benzine wagon. An automobile; a 

better fraction. One's wife; a play on 
the reference to one's wife as one's "bet- 
ter half." 

B-girl. Bar girl (a woman who encour- 
ages soldiers and sailors to drink; she 
was often paid a commission by the bar). 
In I Hear America Talking (1976), Stuart 
Berg Flexner notes that this term was 
first recorded in print in 1937 and got a 
lot of work during the war. 

big America. The United States. 

big bean. A person of importance. 

Big Ben. The aircraft carrier Franklin 
(named for Benjamin Franklin). 

big blue team. A group of regular 

big bow-wow. (1) A regimental ser- 
geant major. (2) An important person. 

big boy with a fever. (1) A passionate 
man. (2) A man with a venereal disease. 

big bozo. A corpulent man. 

big brawl / big fracas / big mix-up / 
big row / big rumpus / big 
show. War. 

big bus. A large airplane. 

big chump / big cluck / big clunk. A 

stupid person. 

big dame hunter. A philanderer; one 
fond of women; a play on "big game 

Big E, the. The aircraft carrier Enter- 
prise. According to Newsweek of October 
22, 1945, sailors of the Essex began using 
the nickname for their newer, larger car- 
rier and calling the Enterprise "the Little 
E"; Enterprise men (proud of their ship's 
achievements, definitely not in the "lit- 
tle" class) beat them up. 

big friend. A bomber. 

big girl with the torch. The Statue of 


big guy. An important man; a corpu- 
lent man. 

big Jeep. A large bomber. 

big John. A recruit; one who is in 
basic training. 

bigot. Highly secret information (e.g., 
invasion plans); a code word. 

big set-to / big show. A major en- 

big ship. A large airplane; a bomber. 

Big Three. The United States, Great 
Britain, and the Soviet Union. 

big ticket. An honorable discharge. 

big wheel. Anyone with a little au- 

bilge rat. A member of a ship's engi- 
neering crew in the Navy. "Bilge" is a 
traditional naval term for dirty water, 
specifically that found at the bottom of 
the ship where the engineering crew 

bimbo dough. Money for a date. 

bimbo dust. Face powder. 

bimbo nuts. Fond of girls. 

bingo. A close antiaircraft shot. 

birdboat. An aircraft carrier. 

bird in the monkey suit. An aviator. 

bird of paradise. A discharge button 
(because it depicts an eagle at rest). See 


birdseed. A silly or stupid person. 

bird's-eye view. A view from the air. 

biscuit blast. Damage caused to teeth 
when biting down on the rock-hard "dog 
biscuit" in the Army's K-ration. 

biscuit gun. An imaginary weapon, 
said to be used to shoot food to novice 
pilots who are having a hard time mak- 
ing a landing. The term was commonly 
used in flying schools. 

bite the dust. To be defeated; to be 
killed in action; to be wounded; to be 
shamed; to be mortified. 

blab off. To talk out of turn. 

blackbird. A black; a black aviator. 

Black Cat. The Catalina Flying Boat (a 
Navy aircraft); so-called because of its 
black paint and nocturnal habits. 

black hawk. The black Army necktie 
(as opposed to the khaki necktie). 

black market. (1) The business of ille- 
gal transactions (including the sale of 
stolen goods). This term first cropped up 
in European dispatches in 1939, refer- 
ring to the practice of hoarding goods 
and selling them at inflated prices. In I 
Hear America Talking (1976), Stuart 
Berg Flexner notes that the term had 
seen limited use during World War I, 
when it entered the English language as 

128 • WAR SLANG 

a literal translation of the German 

(2) An illegal market in merchandise 
declared "frozen" (i.e., available only at 
a fixed price in the regulated market). It 
was in this context that the term became 
a household word in the United States; 
black markets were seen as a very real 
menace to law-abiding Americans. 

blackout. (1) An extinction of lights as 
protection against enemy aircraft. The 
blackout in London was lifted in April 
1945, after 2,061 nights of dangerous and 
distressing darkness. In the United 
States, practice blackouts were held at 
intervals so that people would be pre- 
pared in case the real thing became nec- 
essary. (2) Unconsciousness, especially 
from the centrifugal force created in an 
aircraft. (3) Long underwear. 

black strap. Thick black coffee (i.e., 
coffee that seems as viscous as black- 
strap molasses). 

Black Umbrella. The "all Negro" 99th 
Pursuit Squadron of the Army Air Corps; 
so-called because of their protective role. 

blanket drill. An afternoon nap. 

blankets. Hotcakes. 

blanket soldier. A military policeman; 
so-called because his other names are 
unfit for publication. 

blanket wife. A prostitute. 

blank file. A stupid soldier. 

blast. To shoot; to kill. 

blaze away at. To shoot at. 

blind flying. (1) Flying by instruments 
only. (2) Going on a blind date. 

blind pig. (1) A place where liquor is 
illegally sold. (2) A miniature tank 
packed with twenty-five pounds of TNT, 
developed by the Crosby Research Foun- 
dation in Pasadena, California. The idea 
was to turn such machines loose on a 
battlefield. (They were featured in the 
PM Daily Picture Magazine for July 21, 

blip. An "echo" on a radar screen; from 
the sound made when the image flashes. 

blister foot. An infantryman. 

blister mechanic. A hospital corps- 

blitz. (1) The German bombing of Brit- 
ain, from August 1940 until the end of 
May 1941; from the German Blitzkrieg 
("lightning war"). (2) An air patrol. (3) A 
German. (4) To attack a task in the man- 
ner of a blitzkrieg (e.g., to blitz the bar- 
racks in a quick cleanup). (5) To hurry. 

Blitz — From the Horror of War 

to Football 

A number of words have made a quick 
transfer from war to civilian life, and 
"blitz" was one, as indicated by a story 
in the San Francisco Examiner of July 
22, 1941: 


new Orleans, July 21 (AP) — America's 
football coaches, says one of them, 
would know how to stop a blitzkrieg — 
because they invented it! 


'Those fellows in Europe are just do- 
ing what we've been doing for years," 
declared Tulane's coach "Red" Dawson, 
sitting before an electric fan in his office. 

He diagrammed tactics used in the 
Russo-German war, and compared them 
with plays he was outlining for his own 
fall campaign. 

"Football used to be a 'war of posi- 
tion,'" he said, "but changed to a 'war 
of movement' before you ever heard of 
a blitzkrieg. . . . Your downfield blockers 
operate just as the advance units of 
panzer divisions." 

blitz baby. A child born in Britain dur- 
ing the German blitz. 

blitz bachelor. A British man who sent 
his wife and children to the country to 
avoid the bombing of London during the 
blitz. Because of the number of Ameri- 
can males stationed outside of London, 
this term had a certain relevance. 

blitz buggy. A reconnaissance car, es- 
pecially a midget truck manufactured by 
the Ford Motor Company for the Army. 

Blitz Day. Hawaiian name for Decem- 
ber 7, 1941 (the date of the Japanese at- 
tack on Pearl Harbor), according to Time 
of December 19, 1949. 

blitzed out. Forced to leave because of 
damage caused to premises during the 


blitz flu. Influenza that floors its victim 
and then suddenly disappears. 

blitz it. To polish or spruce up with 
vigor and speed. According to sources of 
the time, the expression is from the trade 

name of a brass-polishing cloth, rather 
than directly from the German blitz. 

blitzkrieg. An attack by powerful 
forces at lightning speed. This German 
term appeared in The Nation of Septem- 
ber 10, 1938, with the definition "light- 
ning stroke." The word captured the 
popular imagination and appeared in 
innumerable short-lived forms (e.g., 
"airblitz," "blitzlizzies," and "blitz- 

blitz wagon. A staff car. 

blitzy. Showing the marks of a blitz. 

blob stick / blob stock. A simulated 
bayonet used in training. 

blockbuster. An aerial bomb large 
enough to knock down a whole block of 
houses. The term originated in Britain, 
where "block" had a different meaning. 
Writing in American Speech for Decem- 
ber 1944, Robert Trout of CBS explained: 
"Many Americans who are accustomed 
to this word do not realize that the 
'block' is not an American city block, but 
a large modern building. As the British 
say, 'A block of flats,' or 'A block of of- 


Like wjtz, "blockbuster" made a quick 
entrance into civilian life, as demon- 
strated by the following examples. 

If Congress does not put some pay-as- 
you-go income tax payment plan into 
operation before next March 1 5th, there 
is likely to be a nationwide explosion 
which will punch at the foundations of 
our entire federal income tax structure. 

130 • WAR SLANG 

The present income tax collection system 
has become a time bomb of block-buster 
proportions, and it is set to go off next 
March 15th. 
— "Danger: Time Bomb, An Editorial," 
in Collier's (January 2, 1943) 

'The Brazilian blockbuster — Aurora 

— Orson Welles, on his radio show 
(May 10, 1944) 

blockbusting. Scathing; annihilating. 

Coffee with cream 

blond and sweet. 

and sugar. 

blood. Catsup. 

blood, sweat, and tears. All one's ef- 
fort or resources. In a speech in the 
House of Commons on May 13, 1940, 
after receiving a commission from the 
king to form a new administration, Win- 
ston Churchill said: "I would say to the 
House, as I said to those who have joined 
this government: 'I have nothing to offer 
but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.' " 

blood bank. A place where blood and 
plasma is stored for use in transfusions. 
In January 1941 the American Red Cross 
announced plans for a giant blood bank 
that would furnish thousands of liters of 
plasma to the British Red Cross for the 
treatment of war victims. 

bloodbath. A massacre; from the Ger- 
man biutbad. 

blood wagon. An ambulance. 

Bloody Nose Ridge. A place of car- 
nage. In Marines at War (1961), Russell 

Davis writes: "Old Marines talk of 
Bloody Nose Ridge as though it were 
one, but I remember it as a series of crags, 
ripped bare of all standing vegetation, 
peeled down to the rotted coral, rolling 
in smoke, crackling with heat and stink- 
ing of wounds and death." 

bloomers. Gun covers; a Navy term. 

blotter machine. A machine gun. 

blotto. Dead. Before the war, this meant 
"dead drunk." 

blouse. To tuck the bottoms of one's 
pants into rubber bands — generally, con- 
doms knotted at the ends — above the first 
buckle of one's combat boots. This made 
the trousers puff out at the bottom (an 
effect called "Mousing"). 

blow job. A jet-propelled aircraft. The 
term figured in several long-recalled 
headlines, such as the postwar "First 
Blow Job in Japan" (in the English- 
language daily Japan Times, published 
in Tokyo). 

blow one's top. To lose one's temper. 

blue job. The Navy; from the tradi- 
tional color of the Navy uniform. See 
also BROWN JOB. 

blue letter mail. Letters that soldiers 
did not want their immediate superiors 
to censor. Such letters were handled by 
the Base Censorship Detachment of Mili- 
tary Intelligence, and soldiers could 
send two of these a month (according to 
Newsweek of March 27, 1944). 


boar's nest. 

bunk area. 

An untidy bunk and 

bobtail. (1) A dishonorable discharge. 
The allusion is to the former practice of 
cutting out the portion of a discharge 
certificate that referred to "service hon- 
orable and faithful." (2) A truck tractor 
without a trailer in tow. 

bobtail hotel. An Army disciplinary 

body snatcher. A stretcher bearer. 

bogey. An unidentified enemy aircraft, 
in radar code. 

bog pocket. A tightwad. 

boilermakers. An Army band. Elbridge 
Colby defines the term in Army Talk: A 
Familiar Dictionary of Soldier Speech 
(1943): "The service's affectionate de- 
scriptive term for the average army band. 
Whether the music is good or bad, they 
are 'boilermakers' just the same." 

bolo. An inept marksman. See bolo 
squad, under the Spanish-American War 
era, and bolo, under the Vietnam War. 

bolognas. Automobile or truck tires; 
from their plump, sausagelike quality. 

bombardier. One who releases bombs 
at a target, especially from aircraft. The 
word "bomb" had once been synony- 
mous with "shell." 

bombardier's dream. To sink an en- 
emy battleship, submarine, or aircraft 

bomb bay. That portion of the fuselage 
in an airplane where the bombs are 

bomber's moon. A moon full enough 
to give light for bombing operations. 

bombs on. Bombs are aboard; said of 
an airplane. 

bomb-up. To load an aircraft with 

bomphlet. A propaganda leaflet dropped 
by air in enemy territory. The word was 
coined by A. P. Herbert, a British author. 
The term "bomphleteer" was applied to 
airmen engaged in dropping such leaf- 
lets in the early days of the war. 

bone. To study. 

bone bootlick. To flatter; to curry favor. 

boob. (1) A stupid person. (2) A Navy 

boob squad. A squad of newly re- 
cruited soldiers. 

booby trap. Any concealed device 
used by the Germans or Japanese to kill 
allied soldiers. Booby traps took many 
forms, one being mines placed under the 
bodies of dead or wounded soldiers, 
which would explode when the bodies 
were moved. Here is how they were de- 
scribed in a 1944 CBS radio dispatch: 
"And then there are the booby-traps. 
Maybe you see a bottle of wine lying be- 
side a bombed building, but you don't 
touch it. And maybe there is a tempting 
apple tree beside the road . . . but you 

132 * WAR SLANG 

leave that tree alone too because it might 
blow up in your face if you pulled a 
branch down." 

booby-trap. To fit with booby traps. 

boodle. Cake, candy, ice cream, etc. A 
"boodle fight" is a party at which boodle 
is served. The term seems to derive from 
"kit and caboodle." See also under the 
Spanish-American War era. 

boodle bag. A kit or Army haversack 
into which one stuffs boodle. 

boom dust. Dynamite; black powder 
(an explosive]. 

boom wagon. A truck transporting 
high explosives. 

boondockers. Combat boots or field 
shoes used in the boondocks (see under 
the Spanish-American War era). 

boot. A Marine or Navy recruit. See 
also under the Spanish-American War 
era and under World War I. 

boot camp. The place and process of 
basic training in the Navy and the Ma- 
rine Corps. 

boot hill. Hill 89 (the last stronghold of 
the defeated Japanese army on Okinawa); 
so-called by Colonel M. M. Finn, com- 
mander of the 32nd Regiment of the 7th 
Division, because so many booted Japa- 
nese feet could be seen sticking up from 
the soil (as told in American Notes and 
Queries of June 1945). 

bootle. A waves recruit. 

bootleg. Coffee of an inferior grade; 
akin to "bootleg" whiskey. 

bootlick. To flatter; to curry favor. 

bore an ape / bore a nip / bore a 
nippo. To shoot a Japanese. The deroga- 
tory terms "nip" and "nippo" are de- 
rived from the Japanese name for Japan, 

bore a ratzy. To shoot a German. 
"Ratzy" was a blend of "rat" and "Nazi." 

boreconstrictor. A bore; an unpopular 

bore war. The period of comparative 
inaction on the western front from the 
outbreak of war in September 1939 until 
the German offensive in May 1940; a pun 
on "Boer War." 

borrowed brass. False courage in- 
spired by drugs or drink. 

bosom chums. Lice. 

bottle baby. A woman with dyed blond 
hair; from the fact that hair dye comes in 
a bottle. 

bottled sunshine. Beer. 

bottleneck. An impasse in production 
or in the movement of men or materiel. 
There was some British fascination with 
the term, as evidenced by this question 
and answer from a 1944 issue of Punch: 
"What exactly are bottle-necks? Are they 
really numerous? The term bottle-neck is 
a useful Americanism. It means a tempo- 
rary stoppage of production caused by 


a shortage, a surplus or a sufficiency of 
supplies. It is such a useful American- 
ism that journalists can always find a 
suitable excuse for its use." 

bottlenecker. One who obstructs na- 
tional defense. 

boudoir. A squad tent; from the French 
boudoir (a woman's dressing room or 
bedroom; itself derived from the French 
bouder ["to pout"]). 

bought guts. False courage inspired by 
drugs or drink. 

boy in blue. A sailor. 

boy in brown. A soldier. 

Boyington's Bastards. The Black 
Sheep squadron, under Lieutenant Colo- 
nel Gregory Boyington, a Marine flying 

boy upstairs. A pilot, gunner, or bom- 
bardier, when in flight. 

brace. An extreme position of atten- 
tion. The term probably originated at 
West Point. See also bruss. 

brain gang. The staff of general head- 

brain trust. A group of highly qualified 
military advisors. 

branch. A large functional subdivision 
of the Army — Infantry, Supply, Transpor- 
tation, Air Corps, etc. 

brass, the. Officers, as a class or caste. 
Higher-ranking officers were usually 
called "the big brass." The term derives 
from the fact that officers' insignias are 
usually made of brass. 

brassed off. See browned off. 

brass hat. A higher-ranking officer (spe- 
cifically, one with gold braid on his cap 

brass lip echo. A bugle call. 

brass looie / brass loot. A second 

brass pounder. A radiotelegraph op- 
erator, who works a brass telegraph key. 

B-ration. A balanced ration for troops 
in the field, issued by regular mess units. 
The Army described it as follows: "This 
ration will correspond as nearly as prac- 
ticable to the components of Type A field 
ration, with the exception that nonper- 
ishable processed and canned products 
will replace items of a perishable na- 

breadbasket. An aerial bomb that 
combines explosives and incendiaries. 

bread sergeant. A private assigned to 
work as a dining-room orderly, one of his 
main duties being to slice and serve 

break out a flag. To request a loan 
from a friend in the Navy. A "flag" is a 
bill, and "break out" is a traditional na- 
val way of saying "take out of storage." 

134 • WAR SLANG 

breaks of the game. Luck, good or 

bred to arms. Brought up and edu- 
cated for the life of a soldier. 

bridge ape. A member of the Army En- 
gineer Corps. Among other things, they 
build bridges and dams. 

bridgehead. An offensive or defensive 
position established at a bridge or at a 
point where one fords a river. 

brief. To instruct with regard to upcom- 
ing operations. 

briefing room. A room in which pilots 
are briefed (e.g., they receive their in- 
structions for air raids over enemy ter- 

bright-light fellow. One who requests 
repeated leaves (i.e., one who seeks the 
bright lights and good times of the city). 

broad on fire / broad with a fever. A 

passionate woman. 

broad with a heat wave. A passion- 
ate woman; a woman with a venereal 

broad with a load of lettuce. A 

woman of wealth. 

broad with a soft conk. A stupid or 
silly woman; "conk" was common 1930s 
slang for "head." 

broad with canned goods. A virgin. 

broad with round heels. A woman of 
loose morals. 

broom ship. A Navy ship that won an 
efficiency award. Such ships frequently 
hoisted a broom to the masthead to sig- 
nify the award. 

brown. To curry favor; to bootlick. 

browned off. Fed up. According to A. 
Marjorie Taylor, in The Language of 
World War II (1948), other such phrases 
included "brassed off" (very fed up) 
and "cheesed off" (utterly disgusted). 
"Browned off" originated in the British 
army in India (c. 1932). "Cheesed off" 
was probably suggested by "browned 
off," the link being the brown rind of 
cheese. "Brassed off" was originally a na- 
val term, derived from the excessive pol- 
ishing of a ship's brasswork. In the 
R.A.F., "cheesed off" became the favorite 
of the three phases. All of these terms 
were readily adopted by American 
forces, beginning with those pilots who 
had frequent contact with their R.A.F. 

brown job. The Army. This term was 
extended by the British, who referred to 
soldiers as "brown jobs." See also blue 

brownnose. A soldier or cadet who 
curries favors; an "ass kisser." 

brownout. A partial blackout. 

brushing the bushes. Flying close to 
the ground. 

brush-off club. Men in the armed 
forces who have been dumped by their 


Brush-off Club 


The Brush-off Club, which was 
founded at a U.S. bomber base in India 
and is fast becoming a global affair, is 
composed of soldiers whose gals have 
thrown them over since they got into the 
army. Local chapters are being orga- 
nized wherever our troops are stationed. 
Requirements for membership are: (1) 
She has married somebody else. (2) She 
is engaged or "practically engaged" to 
somebody else. (3) She mentions dates 
with other guys and doesn't start out 
"Dearest Darling" any more. (4) The sol- 
dier's folks have reported seeing her out 
with other joes. 

There is also a "Pending or Prospec- 
tive Membership" for the "Just Sweating 
Member." He doesn't know where the 
hell he stands but the mail doesn't bring 
in sugar reports any longer. All mem- 
bers are eligible for the Good Hunting 
Committee, which convenes as often as 
two or three men can get leave any- 
where females are in evidence. A Cor- 
responding Secretary keeps track of new 
telephone numbers to exchange 
among members. 

One new member joined the club 
with particularly high qualifications — a 
six-page letter from his fiancee back in 
Texas. In the last paragraph she men- 
tioned casually, "I was married a week 
ago but my husband won't mind you 
writing to me once in a while. He's a 
sailor and very broadminded." 

— Reader's Digest (September 
1943; adapted from Yank, The 
Army Weekly) 

bruss. An exaggerated brace. 

B-2. Unidentified aircraft. According to 
the New York Herald Tribune of Septem- 
ber 11, 1944, "B-2" came from the phrase 
"be too bad if they are not friendly." 

bubble dancing. Dishwashing; from 
the fact that the activity covers one with 
suds, like a bubble dancer. 

buck. To work hard to qualify (e.g., for 
a higher rank, an assignment, or a trans- 
fer); to cram for an examination. 

buck for orderly. To give special atten- 
tion to one's uniform and equipment be- 
fore going on guard, with a view to 
competing for the position of orderly for 
the commanding officer. 

buck for Section VIII. To purposely 
make mistakes or get into trouble; to pre- 
tend to be crazy. Such behavior could 
get a soldier a Section VIII discharge, 
granted to those unable to perform mili- 
tary duties. 

buck passer. One who evades work 
and responsibility. 

buck private. The lowest rank in the 

buck sergeant. An ordinary sergeant 
(as opposed to a staff sergeant, a techni- 
cal sergeant, etc.). 

buck slip. A slip of paper on which cer- 
tain information is requested from 
another department or office. The infor- 
mation is usually returned on the same 
slip. The term almost certainly came 
from the phrase "pass the buck." 

buffalo. A huge, armored amphibious 
vehicle for carrying soldiers and weap- 

bug. (1) Any solid matter in soup. (2) 
An Army supply truck. (3) A defect in a 

136 • WAR SLANG 

machine. (4) A telegraph speed-key. (5) 
A stupid or silly person. (6) A germ or 
an illness (as in, "I just came down with 
a bug"). 

The "bug" in the machine is discussed 
by Elbridge Colby in Army Talk: A Fa- 
miliar Dictionary of Soldier Speech 

Our modern mechanical army is using 
this word a lot. (No! It has nothing to do 
with "cooties.") It was brought into the 
service by the motor hounds, the men of 
the motor transport schools and the tank 
school. It is a pure borrowing from civil 
life. A "bug" is something in the nature 
of a defect of design or of adjustment in 
a machine. 

bug juice. (1) Gasoline. (2) Whiskey of 
very poor quality. 

bug sender. A telegraph operator using 
a semiautomatic key-instrument, or 
bug (4). 

build a stew. To cook a stew. 

build a wooden horse. To make an 
imperfect landing. 

built-in head wind. A low cruising 
speed (said of an airplane); The implica- 
tion is that the airplane's designer inten- 
tionally lowered the cruising speed. 

bullhorn. A powerful amplifier on an 
aircraft carrier, through which orders 
are given. 

bull in the can. Canned corned beef. 

bullpen. A military prison yard. 

bully beef. Canned meat. 

An Ode to Bully Beef 


You can eat it with your eyes closed 
And a clothespin on your nose. 
You can eat it in the mess hall, 
Or out where the kunai grows. 
You can serve it up in dishes, 
Camouflaged beyond belief. 
But no matter what you call it. 
It will still be Bully Beef. 

You can boil it, fry it, stew it, 
Serve it cold or piping hot. 
You can mix it up with gravy, 
Or leave it there to rot. 
But no matter how you mix it, 
You will always come to grief. 
For no matter what you call it, 
It will still be Bully Beef. 

— Atabrine Times, by "Kilroy" 

bumble bomb. See buzz bomb. 

bumped. To lose one's accommoda- 
tions or seat to one of a higher rank. 

bunk fatigue. Napping on one's bed. 
The term is a compound — a bunk is a 
bed, and "fatigue" is an Army term for 

bunkie. One who shares a bunk, tent, 
or other shelter. It was civilian slang 
adopted by the Army. 

Burma Road. The 700-mile road from 
Burma to China, used as a military sup- 
ply route. Figuratively, it came to mean 
any supply route of similar importance. 

burn and turn. The game of blackjack. 


burned broad / burned hooker / 
burned hustler / burned quail. A 

woman with a venereal disease. 

burp gun. Practically any type of Ger- 
man automatic or semiautomatic small 
arms. The term came from the sound 
made by the weapons. 

bus. An aircraft. 

bus a town. To fly low near a town. 

bushwhack. To ambush; to cheat; to 
steal; to lie. 

bust. To reduce in rank. Usually, being 
busted meant being reduced to the rank 
of private. 

buster. To fly at normal speed; radar 
code. "To gate" meant to fly at the great- 
est speed possible. Such terms were 
often created more for their ability to be 
heard over the radio than to make logi- 
cal sense. 

butch. A medical officer; from 

butcher. (1) A company barber. (2) A 

butcher's bill. A bulletin, or list, of 
those killed in action. 

butcher shop. A hospital. 

butt. A remainder. It could refer to the 
remainder of an enlistment period as 
well as that of a cigarette or cigar. 

butt-end Charlie. A tail gunner in a 
bomber; also called "tail-end Charlie." 

button chopper. A laundry worker; a 

buttoned up. (1) A phrase meaning 
"orders carried out." In British slang, it 
meant "thoroughly prepared." (2) Home 
from a mission and locked up for the 
night (said of an aircraft). (3) A tank 
closed to the outside. (4) A ship whose 
portholes, bulkheads, and companion- 
ways are closed to contain damage. 

butts on you. A request for a partly 
smoked cigarette. 

buy another star (for the flag). To 

be fined. 

buzz. To fly low and fast over an area. 

buzzard. A member of the Army Air 

buzzard meat. Chicken; turkey. 

buzz a town. To fly low and fast over a 
town; by extension, to "do" a town (i.e., 
to go there and carouse). 

buzz bomb. A jet-propelled, one-ton 
"flying bomb," or "robot bomb," used by 
the Germans to bomb England and Bel- 
gium in 1944. Other synonyms for 
"buzz bomb" included "bumblebomb," 
"buzzer," "doodlebug," "dynamite me- 
teor," "Goebbels's gizmo," "whizbang," 
and "whizzer." Buzz bombs were a major 
topic in U.S. newspapers and on the 

buzzer. A member of the Signal Corps. 

by the board. (1) Correct; an Army 
term. (2) Close to the deck; a Navy term. 

138 * WAR SLANG 

by the numbers. In a routine manner; 
as rehearsed. A. Marjorie Taylor ex- 
plained the term in The Language of 
World War II (1948): "In training, certain 
fundamental operations, such as putting 
on a gas mask, were taught by the num- 
bers — at the count of one, the carrier was 
unfastened, two the mask was removed, 
and so forth." 

* -& c * * 

cabbage. Money. 

cackleberry. An egg; from the fact that 
chickens cackle. 

cadet widow. A young woman popular 
with several classes of cadets. 

cadre. A group of officers and enlisted 
men who administer and train a new 

California strawberries. Prunes. 

cam. Camouflage. 

camoufleur. One who applies or uses 

camp strawberries. Beans. 

canary. A gas mask; also called a 
"dicky-bird" and a "nose-bag." The link 
between the mask and the bird is that 
canaries are used to warn miners of the 
presence of gas (the birds die when gas 
first enters the work area). 

C. and S. Clean and sober. 

candy wagon. A light truck. 

canned morale. A movie. 

canned news. A newsreel. 

cannibalization. Using parts from one 
machine to repair another. The term was 
defined officially as: "Removal, on au- 
thority, of parts from major items for the 
repair of other major items." 

Canol. The Canadian oil development 
project. The word was formed from the 
abbreviated linking of "Canada" and 
"oil." The project was initiated early in 
1942, when the decision to build the Al- 
can (a blend of "Alaska" and "Canada") 
Highway made it feasible. 

can opener. (1) A bayonet. (2) A cook. 
(3) An aircraft equipped to destroy (i.e., 
open) tanks and other armored vehicles. 

Can Opener 

Many of the slang terms of the war were 
moved around the English-speaking 
world in news accounts. This excerpt 
from a wire service story in the San 
Francisco News of April 22, 1943, 
helped establish one of the meanings of 
"can opener": 


london, April 22 — The secret of the RAF's 
tank busting planes which have earned 
the name "Can-Openers" because of 
their work in North Africa, was officially 
revealed today. 

The "Can-Openers" are Hurricanes 
designed especially for use against ar- 
mored vehicles. They carry two 40 mm. 
guns, one in each wing. The guns are 
capable of automatic or single shot fire 
with a shell weighing 2 ] A pounds. 

The gun itself, especially designed for 
aircraft use, weighs only 320 pounds. 


The plane also carries two Browning 

cans. Radio headphones; from their re- 
semblance to tin cans. 

canteen. (1) A flask carried in the field. 
(2) A military post exchange, snack bar, 
or other place where the troops went for 
refreshment (e.g., the Stage Door Can- 
teen, on Lafayette Square, across from the 
White House). 

canteen check. A credit coupon used 
at post exchanges. 

canteen medal. A stain on one's cloth- 
ing from food or drink. 

canteen soldier. One who wears non- 
regulation clothing or insignia. 

CAP. Civil Air Patrol. It was established 
under the Office of Civilian Defense on 
December 9, 1941, with Major General 
John F. Curry of the Army Air Corps as 
national commander. 

captain's butt. A cigarette less than 
half smoked; an Army term. See also cor- 
poral's BUTT. 

captain's mouthorgan. A company 

captain's wash. A display of signal 

care boy. A tank driver. 

carpet / carpet bombing / carpet 

raid. A bombing attack that attempts to 
clear the way for advancing ground 

troops by laying out exploding bombs 
like carpet being unrolled. 

carpet knight. A soldier who remains 
at home during a war and does not go 
into combat. 

carrier pigeon. An officer's messenger. 

carry a bone in the teeth. To cut 

through the water making waves of foam 
about the bow. 

carry a heavy load. To be fatigued; to 
be melancholy. 

Casey Jones mission. An air attack 
against enemy railroad installations. The 
Casey Jones in question is the train engi- 
neer of song and legend. 

cash in one's checks / cash one's 
chips. To die. 

cast-iron bathtub. A battleship. 

cast the last anchor. To die; to be 

cat beer. Milk. 

caterpillar club. Those aviators who 
have had to bail out in an emergency. 

cathead kid. A sailor guarding a mine 
cable over the cathead, or projecting por- 
tion of a ship. 

cat house. A garage for a tractor or 
similar vehicle; from the Caterpillar 

cat jabber. A bayonet. 
C.B. Confined to barracks. 

140 • WAR SLANG 

ceiling. An upper limit; from the aero- 
nautical use of the term. It was used in 
reference to the price limits placed on 
goods by the government, in an attempt 
to prevent inflation. 

Celestial Chicken. A member of the 
"Flying Tigers" (the American Volunteer 
Flying Group, attached to the Chinese 

C.G. (1) Commanding general. (2) Cap- 
tain of the guard. (3) Coast Guard. 

chamber pot. A steel helmet. The hel- 
met is likened to the portable toilet pot 
of bygone days. Chamber pots (often 
called "thunder mugs") were used to 
avoid cold trips to the outhouse in the 
days before indoor plumbing. 

chase guardhouse visitors. To guard 
prisoners while they are working. 

chase the cow. Pass the milk. 

chatterbox. A machine gun. 

chatter of the guns. Gunfire; a bom- 

chauffeur. A pilot. 

cheap liberty. A look at the shore from 
aboard ship. 

check out. To be killed; to die. 

check ride. A flight on which an in- 
structor evaluates a pilot's ability; an 
Army Air Corps term. 

cherry picker. A heavy crane used by 
the Seabees in the Pacific for construc- 

tion work; so-called because it looked 
like it would work perfectly for harvest- 
ing cherries from high in a tree. 

chew off. To dress down; to reprimand. 

Chicago atomizer. An automatic rifle. 

Chicago banjo / Chicago blotter / 
Chicago chatterbox 7 Chicago 
chopper / Chicago coffee-grinder / 
Chicago grind-organ / Chicago 
mowing-machine / Chicago riveter / 
Chicago Tommy / Chicago type- 
writer / Chicago violin. A machine 


craft gun. 

piano. A multiple antiair- 

chicken. (1) Mean, petty, or annoying, 
especially as regards regulations. (2) Un- 
necessary discipline or regimentation. 
(3) A person who adheres too closely to 
Army rules and regulations or abuses his 
authority, especially in minor or petty 
matters. (4) The silver eagle that a colo- 
nel wears on each shoulder. A colonel's 
eagles were first called "chickens" in 
World War I, as noted in a popular song 
of the day: "I'd rather be a private with a 
chicken on my knee than a colonel with 
a chicken on my shoulder." 

chicken berry. An egg. 

chicken colonel. A full colonel, whose 
rank is designated by a silver eagle (a 
chicken) on each shoulder; also known 
as a "bird colonel." 



...ina clipper. A dishwasher. The 
"china" in question here is dishware. 


chicken shit. The G.I.'s name for serv- 
ice regulations and the seemingly end- 
less make- work chores. In his Browser's 
Dictionary (1980) John Ciardi links the 
term to chores because the one "unend- 
ing labor on any chicken farm used to 
be the shoveling up of droppings, which 
were forever immediately renewed in 

Chindits. Wingate's Raiders. It has been 
written that General Orde Wingate 
"called his men 'Chindits' after the Chin- 
they — the mythological beast, half lion, 
half griffin, statues of which stand guard 
over Burmese pagodas to ward off evil 

Chinese landing / Chinese ace. An 

airplane landing with one wing low; 
from the fact that, to westerners, "one 
wing low" sounds Chinese. 

Chinese three-point landing. An air- 
plane crash. 

chinkberries. Rice. "Chink" is a de- 
rogatory term for "Chinese." 

chisling. A quota chiseler (i.e., a firm 
that fails to conform to production quo- 
tas set up by the War Production Board). 

chow bumps. Two bugle blasts, giving 
preliminary notice of mess. 

chow hound. Someone always at the 
head of a mess line. 

chowmobile. A canteen (2) pulled by a 
tractor and serving hot meals. 

chow-table muscles. Fat. 

chuck spoiler. A cook. "Chuck" is an 
old Americanism for "food," as in 

chute. A parachute. 

chutist. A parachutist. 

C. in C. Commander in chief. 

Cinclant. Commander in chief of the 
Atlantic Fleet. 

Cincpac. Commander in chief of the 
Pacific Fleet. 

CINCUS. Commander in chief of the 
U.S. Fleet. This acronym was used by the 
Navy until 1942, when, because of its re- 
semblance to "sink us," it was changed 
by Admiral Ernest J. ("Rey") King to 

cinder shifter. An infantryman 
marching on a drill field packed with 

circus water. Iced drinks served with 

cit. A civilian; from "citizen." 

cit duds / cit rags / cits. Civilian cloth- 

cits army. The National Guard. 

city cow. Canned milk. 

civvies. Civilians; civilian clothing. 

C.J. The civilian jeep, or CJ-2A (the first 
nonmilitary version of the Army ve- 

142 * WAR SLANG 

C.L A light cruiser; from the military 
designation, "cruiser, light." 

Clara. The all-clear signal after an air 

class A liberty. Freedom. The term de- 
rives from the classification of military 
passes. The class A pass serves as a re- 
ward for efficiency and good conduct; it 
permits absence at all times when not on 
duty. The class B pass permitted absence 
only between taps and reveille. 

cloak and dagger. Said of a person or 
activity that is secret, exciting, danger- 
ous, and highly important. It stemmed 
from the popular notion that a spy al- 
ways carried a dagger beneath his cloak. 

clocks. Cockpit instruments. 

cloud kissing. Touching the clouds in 
an airplane. 

cloud wagon. An airplane. 

clutter. Images on a radar screen caused 
by noise, permanent echoes, or jamming. 

C.N.O. Chief of naval operations. 

CO. (1) Commanding officer. (2) Con- 
scientious objector. 

cockpit fog. A state of confusion. 

coffee cooler. One who seeks and se- 
cures a duty more congenial than his 
regular duties; one who is always look- 
ing for an easy job; a loafer. The term 
describes a person whose major "activ- 
ity" is to stand around waiting for his 
coffee to get cool enough to drink. 

coffee grinder. (1) A machine gun; 
from the noise it makes. (2) A portable 
radio set for sending out S.O.S. signals; 
so-called because the machine resembles 
an old-fashioned coffee mill. These ma- 
chines were part of the equipment on 
lifeboats of vessels in war zones. 

coffin corridor. An area of Normandy, 
France. It is described by A. Marjorie 
Taylor in The Language of World War II 

As the Allied troops were driving on 
across France toward Paris in August 1944, 
there was still a narrow route in Normandy 
along which the German Seventh Army ex- 
pected to be able to withdraw to a safer 
position at the Seine. When the gap was 
closed by Allied advances 100,000 to 
200,000 German troops were forced to turn 
for a battle to the death. 

C. of S. Chief of staff. 

CO. highball. Castor oil. 

cold. Absolute; without error. 

cold feet. Fear. 

cold steel. Bayonets (in hand-to-hand 

collision mats. Pancakes; waffles. 

combat boots. Standard Army boots. 
After 1942, they replaced the World War 
I-style boots and leggings. Combat boots 
have a "cuff" of leather, with two buckles 
above the laced-up "high-top." 

combat fatigue. See shell shock, under 
World War I. 

comb it. To make a detailed inspection 
of an Army tank. 

come in through the cabin win- 
dow. To obtain a commission; a Navy 

COMINCH. Commander in chief of the 
U.S. Fleet. See cincus. 

commander of the Swiss fleet / com- 
mander of the Swiss navy. See admi- 

commando. A member of a special 
British assault force, trained in raiding 
and in hand-to-hand combat. The first 
commando raid took place on March 7, 
1941; the commandos destroyed a plant 
in occupied Norway making glycerine 
for the Germans. 

The term dates back to the Boer War, 
when it was adapted from the Afrikaans 
kommando (a unit of troops under one 
command). It was first heard by Ameri- 
cans during World War II and used by 
them to describe military actions involv- 
ing shock and surprise (e.g., "commando 
tactics" and "commando attack"). 

commissary bullets. Beans. 

commo. Communication. 

common soldier. A private; an en- 
listed man. 

company punishment. Punishment 
fixed by the company commander. 

company stooge. A company clerk. 

completely cheesed. Bored to an ex- 

compo. Compensation. 


conchie. Conscientious objector. 

condition black. A situation of ex- 
treme danger. A number of such "color- 
ful" conditions existed, as indicated by 
this extract from Words of the Fighting 
Forces: "Degrees of danger in this war are 
described in shouted warnings of CON- 
'Condition Red' means enemy planes are 
approaching. 'Condition Black' is the 
most imperative of all; it means enemy 
landing parties are approaching." 

conk out. (1) To stop working suddenly 
(said of an aircraft engine during flight). 
(2) To become unconscious. "Conk" was 
established slang for the head and, some- 
times, the nose. 

convoy. One or more troop ships or 
supply ships escorted by warships. 

cooking with gas. Having become 
wise to something. 

cooking with Stardust. In love. 

cook someone's goose. To ruin some- 

cool as a cucumber. Alert and aware; 
self-possessed; calm. 

cool card / cool customer / cool fish / 
cool hand. One who is cool as a cu- 

cootie. A body louse. See also the 
cootie entries under World War I. 

cootie frisk. A search for lice in one's 

144 • WAR SLANG 

cootie trap. A bed; a bunk. 

cork down / cork off. To go to bed; 
to sleep. 

corner turner. A deserter. 

corporal's butt. A cigarette more than 
half smoked. See also captain's butt. 

cosmolines. The Artillery Corps; so- 
called because cosmoline was the grease 
in which small arms were packed and 

costume jewelry. An officer's insignia; 
a WAC term. 

coughing Clara. A heavy artillery 

count off. To determine the different 
positions in ranks. 

Country Club. Randolph Field, Texas, 
the air training center for the Army Air 
Corps; so-called because pilots were 
given better accommodations than 
other servicemen. 

couple of jugs. Several beers. 

cousin. A close friend. 

covered wagon. An aircraft carrier. 

cow in a tin barn. Canned milk; 
canned corned beef; canned beef. 

cow juice. Milk. 

coxswain of the plow. An inexperi- 
enced Navy recruit. A coxswain tradi- 
tionally steers a boat, so this term alludes 

to one whose only steering has been of a 
farm implement. 

C.P. Command post. 

crab. (1) A person who complains a lot. 
(2) A girl from Annapolis, Maryland (see 
crabtown, under the Civil War). (3) To 
complain. (4) To head an airplane's nose 
into a crosswind to keep the plane from 
drifting off course. 

crab fleet. The warship squadron on 
which midshipmen make their annual 
practice cruise. 

crack. (1) To speak. (2) To become ner- 
vous or afraid. (3) To wreck an airplane. 

cracked egg. A silly or stupid person. 

crack regiment. A first-class regiment; 
an Army term. 

cropper. A latrine. 

crash. An omelet. 

crash boat. A Marine rescue boat, for 
rescuing aircraft personnel and planes 
making forced landings at sea. 

crash dive. To dive hastily in a sub- 

crash land. To make a forced airplane 
landing, with a crash. 

crash wagon. An ambulance. 

crate. An automobile; an old airplane. 

C-ration. A balanced ration for troops 
in the field. It was developed just before 


the United States entered the war, with 
advance billing as the "balanced meal in 
a can." The Army Subsistence Research 
Laboratory first offered it for trial in 
1940, as a ration in six cans, two for each 
meal of the day. Three of the cans were 
meat units, while the other three con- 
tained concentrated biscuits, ingredients 
for a drink (soluble coffee and sugar), 
and five pieces of hard candy. In all, the 
six cans added up to 3,500 well-balanced 
calories of varied foods. An accessory 
packet included cigarettes, matches, 
chewing gum, and toilet tissue. As the 
war progressed, the C-ration became the 
basic ration used when mess units were 
not accessible. The ration was bulky and, 
after a few days of continuous use, hard 
to get down. Many troops were, however, 
sustained on it for weeks. 

A small C-ration was called a bail-out 
ration. A version of the original C-ration 
was still in use in the Vietnam War, when 
it was called a c-rat. 

creamed foreskins. Creamed chipped 

creepers. (1) Lice. (2) The feet. (3) Soft- 
soled shoes. 

creeping crud. See jungle rot. 

crewman. A member of an airplane 
crew other than the pilot. 

crossbar hotel. A guardhouse. 

crown on the conk. To strike on the 

crow tracks. Chevrons; from their ap- 
pearance as inverted v's. 

cruiser. A prostitute, especially a street- 

crumb gob. A dirty sailor; from the 
older slang term "crumb" ("dirty" or 

crumb hunt. A kitchen inspection; an 
Army term. 

crumb up. To get a haircut, shoeshine, 
freshly pressed shirt, etc., in preparation 
for an inspection. 

crump hole. A shell hole. 

cry always. Bromobenzylcyanide (a 
type of teargas). 

cunt cap. A soft overseas cap; from the 
shape of the hat, which resembles that of 
the female pudenda. 

cunt hair. A unit of measurement, 
smaller than a millimeter, used in direct- 
ing cannon fire (as in, "a cunt hair to 
the left"). 

cupid's itch. Any venereal disease. 

cup of Java / cup of J. Cup of coffee. 

curfloozie. A woman wandering the 
streets. The term is discussed in News- 
week of March 20, 1955: 

After curfew order was put into effect in 
February 1945, the midnight closings of 
restaurants, places of entertainment, etc., 
threw onto the streets (especially in the 
large cities) thousands of GI's (and women) 
with nowhere to go. This gave rise to a seri- 
ous social problem which many felt far 
outweighed any advantage the curfew or- 
der may have had. It was in this connection 
that the Daily News coined the word "cur- 

146 • WAR SLANG 

cut-and-run operation. A military op- 
eration consisting of a sudden attack fol- 
lowed by an immediate withdrawal, 
before a counterattack can be mounted. 

cut her water off and read her me- 
ter. To stop a truck with a mechanical 
problem and find the trouble; to make a 
driving error in traffic. 

cut one's cable. To die; a Navy term. 

cut the gun. To turn off the motor of 
an aircraft. 

D.A. A delayed-action bomb. 

Dad. The oldest member of a group. 

daily details. A daily work schedule 
issued by the company sergeant. 

dame with an anchor. A married 

dan. Dynamite; also known as dino. 
Perhaps the volatile nature of the sub- 
stance dictates that nicknames for it be 

darby kelly. The belly. This bit of 
Cockney rhyming slang was picked up 
by the American Army. 

dawn patrol. (1) An early morning pa- 
trol. (2) Those reaching camp or post 
just before reveille. 

Day of Infamy. The day of the Japanese 
attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 
1941). The first draft of Franklin Delano 

Roosevelt's historic Pearl Harbor speech, 
which he wrote himself, began: "Yester- 
day, December 7, 1941, a date which will 
live in world history, the United States 
was simultaneously and deliberately at- 
tacked by naval and air forces of the Em- 
pire of Japan." According to Robert 
Hendrickson, in Encyclopedia of Word 
and Phrase Origins (1987): "In the sec- 
ond draft FDR substituted the infinitely 
better 'infamy' for 'world history' and 
'suddenly* for 'simultaneously,' making a 
sentence that will live in world history." 
Most people immediately began using 
"day" as part of the phrase, rather than 
"date," the word Roosevelt actually used. 

day room. A recreation room. 

D.B. Disciplinary barracks (i.e., a prison). 

D.C. Speaker. A mythical character, 
created on June 15, 1943, by Kent Cooper 
of the Associated Press. "D.C. Speaker" 
was quoted as the source of news, when 
the true identity of the source could not 
be disclosed. 

D.D. Dishonorable discharge. 

D-day. The day of the Normandy inva- 
sion (June 6, 1944). According to Robert 
Hendrickson, in Encyclopedia of Word 
and Phrase Origins (1987): 

Many explanations have been given for 
the meaning of D-day, June 6, 1944, the day 
the Allies invaded Normandy from En- 
gland during World War II. The Army has 
said that it is "simply an alliteration, as in 
H-hour." Others say the first D in the word 
also stands for "day," the term a code desig- 
nation. The French maintain the D means 
"disembarkation," still others say "debar- 
kation," and the more poetic insist D-day is 
short for "day of decision." When someone 
wrote to General Eisenhower in 1964 ask- 


ing for an explanation, his executive assist- 
ant Brigadier General Robert Schultz 
answered: "General Eisenhower asked me 
to respond to your letter. Be advised that 
any amphibious operation has a 'departed 
date'; therefore, the shortened term 'D-day' 
is used." 

dead battery. An irritable or gloomy 
person; a pessimist. 

dead can. A shell that fails to explode. 

dead lined. Laid up for repairs (said of 
a vehicle). 

dead nuts on. Fond of; in love with. 

dead soldier / dead dog. An empty 
beer bottle or liquor bottle. 

Dear John. A letter from one's wife or 
sweetheart informing one that the rela- 
tionship is over. A contemporary radio 
program included the reading of letters 
addressed to "Dear John," and the phrase 
became a permanent part of both mili- 
tary and civilian slang. In the film Dr. 
Strangelove, the two nuclear warheads 
were named "Hi There" and "Dear 

death gratuity. Money sent to the fam- 
ily of one killed in action. It was offi- 
cially defined by the War Department as: 

Payment to beneficiaries of military per- 
sonnel who die from wounds or disease 
not the result of their own misconduct, 
while on active duty. Gratuity amounts to 
six months' pay (excluding allowances) at 
the rate received by such person at the time 
of his death, officially reported or adminis- 
tratively determined. 

Because this definition made the gratuity 
sound like a tip for good service, it was 
much lampooned by the troops. 

deck ape. A sailor whose duties keep 
him on the deck. 

deck monkey. A member of the deck 
crew of an Army minelayer. Many mine- 
laying operations were conducted by the 
Army rather than the Navy. 

decode. To explain. 

deep dunkers. A little-known and ex- 
clusive official submarine servicemen's 
organization. According to Newsweek for 
October 2, 1944, it was established in the 
spring of 1943 with the objective of rec- 
ognizing officers and men who had not 
qualified for medals (usually awarded 
only to skippers). Membership was re- 
stricted to crewmembers of submarines 
that, on war patrol, had either sunk an 
enemy ship of more than one thousand 
tons, damaged a major warship (e.g., an 
aircraft carrier or a battleship), or per- 
formed a mission (usually secret) of com- 
parable importance. 

deep-sea chicken / deep-sea tur- 
key. Canned salmon. 

"defense" biscuits. See k-ration. 

delousy. Anything unpleasant; in con- 
trast with "delightful." 

deplane. (1) To disembark from an air- 
craft. (2) To be granted a furlough in the 
Army Air Corps. 

depth bomb. A bomb designed to ex- 
plode underwater. In The Language of 
World War II (1948), A. Marjorie Taylor 
gives this description, based on a 1940 
newspaper account: 

Three hundred pounds or more of high 

148 • WAR SLANG 

explosives in a thin shell with an adjust- 
able hydrostatic mechanism to touch it off 
at any desired depth under the sea. Pitched 
or rolled from fighting ships, particularly 
destroyers, it was the nemesis of subma- 
rines. Direct hits were unnecessary. Water- 
transmitted shock of nearby explosion was 
sufficient to buckle plates of submarines or 
damage steering or elevating apparatus. 

devil beater. A chaplain. 

devil-dogs of the sea. The Marines. 

devil-dogs on the march. Marines on 
the march, especially in battle. 

devil's piano. A machine gun. 

devil's voice. A bugle call. 

die in a blaze of glory. To die fighting 
bravely; to die while killing the enemy. 

dihedral oil. An imaginary substance. 
Recruits are sent to procure some, as a 
joke or in being hazed. 

Dilbert. A sailor who is a foul-up or a 
screwball. Dilbert was a cartoon charac- 
ter created by Robert C. Osborn, along 
with another character, a wacky me- 
chanic named Spoiler. Dilbert and 
Spoiler became known to naval combat 
fliers the world over as horrible exam- 
ples of what not to be. 

dimout. A dimming of lights, or partial 
blackout, especially along the coast 
where bright lights would offer a back- 
ground against which passing ships 
would be silhouetted, making them easy 
prey for U-boats. 

ding how. Swell; okay; all right. The 
phrase was first used by the Flying Ti- 

gers. It derives from a Chinese phrase 
meaning "very good." 

dinky. A short, coupled truck. 

dino. Dynamite. 

Dirty Gertie of Bizerte. A sluttish 

dirty mixture. Gasoline. 

dis. Discipline. 

ditch. To bail out of a disabled airplane 
over water; to crash-land a plane in the 

dit da. Radiotelegraph operations; from 
the sound of the keys. 

dit da artist. A radiotelegraph op- 

dit happy. A little crazy from copying 
too much radio code. 

dive bomb. To dive an airplane at a 
steep angle so as to bomb with greater 
accuracy than from level flight. During 
the war, dive bombers were specially 
constructed to stand the strain of high- 
speed dives. Stuka dive bombers were 
considered "terror weapons" at the start 
of the war. 

diviz. An Army division. 

dizzy painting. Camouflage. 

do a hitch. To serve an enlistment. 

do a porpoise. To dive a submarine at 
a sharp angle. 


dock. (1) To forfeit pay by sentence of 
a court-martial. (2) A hospital. 

dodo. A cadet before he starts solo fly- 
ing; from the dodo bird, which could 
not fly. 

dog / dogface / doggie. An infantry- 
man; probably from the fact that infan- 
trymen lead a dog's life, compared with 
soldiers in other branches of the Army. 
The military brass railed against these 
names, but the dogfaces themselves seem 
to have reveled in them. The expression 
occurs in many songs — for example, "I'm 
Just a Dog Face Soldier" (words and 
music by Bert Gold and Ken Hart). Set 
to a jazzy marching tune, the lyrics an- 

I wouldn't give a bean 

To be a fancy-pants marine, 

I'd rather be a dog face soldier like I am. 

I wouldn't change my B.V.D.'s 

For all the navy's dungarees, 

'Cause I'm the walking pride of Uncle Sam. 

In "Dogfaces and Dog Soldiers" (1974), 
Jonathan E. Lighter writes: "Thfis] tune 
quickly became a favorite march of U.S. 
army bands, and was even featured in the 
1955 film biography of Lieut. Audie Mur- 
phy, America's most decorated soldier of 
World War II." 

dog and bystander. Silhouette tar- 
gets, one standing and one prone, set up 
side by side. 

dog fashion. Askew; not in line. The 
term is used to describe a truck trailer 
that does not track, so that the unit looks 
like two canines mating. 

dogfight. A fight between two or more 

dog food. Corned beef hash. 

dogleg. A chevron. 

dog show. Foot inspection. The term 
"dogs" is slang for "feet." 

dogs of war. (1) Artillery. (2) Bombers. 
(3) Warships. (4) Marines. 

dog tags. Identification tags worn by 
soldiers on a chain around the neck. A 
dog tag became symbolic of a dead sol- 
dier, because one tag was sent home after 
he was killed and the other remained 
with the body for purposes of identifica- 
tion. For this reason, a line widely attrib- 
uted to General George S. Patton was 
especially relevant: "I have sent home 
one truckload of dog tags, and by God 
I'll send home another." 

doll's-eyes factory. An unimportant 
factory (e.g., one manufacturing parts 
for toys). 

donagher sergeant. A soldier assigned 
to cleaning the latrine. "Donagher" (or 
"donnicker") was underworld slang for 

doodle. (1) To draw or scribble idly 
and absentmindedly. (2) A drawing so 

doodlebug. A light tank. 

doodle gadget. A contrivance; a thing- 

do one's bit. To serve in the military 
in time of war; to engage in war work. 

door key children. Children left to 

150 • WAR SLANG 

fend for themselves (with a doorkey 
hanging on a string around their necks). 
Most of them were children of war work- 
ers or those with parents in the armed 
forces. The phrase appeared frequently 
in discussions of the rising tide of juve- 
nile delinquency. 

dope head. (1) One fond of Coca-Cola. 
"Dope" was slang for Coca-Cola because 
the soft drink was once said to contain 
a drug. (2) One given to spreading false 
information and rumors. 

dope off. To act in a stupid manner. 

do-re-mi. Money; from "dough" as slang 
for money. 

double-bottomed. Insincere; implying 
one thing and meaning another. 

double-silver-bar John. An Army cap- 
tain, whose insignia is two parallel bars. 

dough beater / dough roller. A baker; 
a cook. 

doughboy. An infantryman. See under 
World War I. 

doughfoot. An infantryman. According 
to The New York Times of December 10, 
1944, the term alludes to the disagree- 
able, even miserable, conditions endured 
by the infantryman because of mud. 
Also, the infantryman's big four-buckle 
galoshes, worn over his regular G.I. 
shoes, make his feet look like oversized 
rolls of chocolate dough after a few hours 
in the fall and winter mud of the front 
lines. Some say the term originated in 
Italy; others, in North Carolina, Georgia, 

or Louisiana; and still others, in France 
or Germany. 

doughnut dugout. A one-room recre- 
ation and refreshment center set up in 
Britain by the Red Cross for G.I.'s 

dough puncher. A baker. 

downhill. The second half of an Army 

do you dig me? Do you understand? 

D.P. Displaced person; a term applied 
to persons driven from their homes by 
war and cared for in refugee camps. 
There were many such camps in Europe 
after the war, and in the late 1940s, many 
emigrated to America. 

draft bait. (1) A selectee (one waiting 
to be drafted into the armed forces). 
(2) A prospective bride (in the sense 
that she is about to be "drafted" into mat- 

drafted malted-milk shaker. A jeep. 

draftee / draftie. One conscripted for 
military service under the Selective 
Service Act of 1940. 

drag an anchor. To have a blind date 
with an ugly or dull woman. 

dragon's teeth. Concrete or steel anti- 
tank obstacles resembling teeth point- 
ing upward. 

D-ration. A highly concentrated emer- 
gency ration for troops in the field. It 


consisted of three four-ounce chocolate 
bars. The special chocolate bar was 
mixed with oat flour to raise the melting 
point. It was not to be eaten except under 
orders, or in an extreme emergency. 

draw crabs. To attract fire from the en- 
emy by exposing oneself. 

draw the long bow. To exaggerate. 

dream sack. A sleeping bag. 

drive it in the hangar. Let's stop it! 

drome. An aerodrome. 

drone. A pilotless, radio-controlled air- 

drugstore nerve. False courage in- 
spired by drugs or drink. 

dry dock. 


A ship's hospital; a ship's 

dry run. Something done for practice 
only (e.g., a simulated bombing, in 
which no bombs were dropped); by ex- 
tension, a rehearsal for any kind of event, 
from a parade to an appointment with a 
superior officer. 

D.T. Double-time. 

dual. A flight with an instructor; a date 
accompanied by a chaperone. 

duck. An Army amphibious truck; from 
its official designation, D.U.K.W. The ve- 
hicle was described by Winston Chur- 
chill in a speech in the House of Com- 
mons in 1944: 

The marvelous "Duck," the American 
invention spelt D.U.K.W., is a heavy lorry 
which goes at between 40 and 50 miles per 
hour along the road, and can plunge into 
the water and swim out for miles to sea in 
quite choppy weather, returning with a 
load of several tons, coming ashore and go- 
ing off to wherever it is specially needed. 

duckbills. Metal flanges welded to tank 
treads to give them a wider grip so they 
would not flounder in the mud. 

duck day. The day on which a G.I. re- 
ceived his discharge papers; from hup- 


duck soup. An easy task. 

dude up. To dress in one's best uni- 

duke. A self-important person. 

dum-dum / dummy. A gun made of 
scrap material, intended to fool the en- 
emy as regards the strength and position 
of one's forces. Aerial photography usu- 
ally exposed such tactics; however, the 
Chinese had some success in fooling 
Japanese airmen with dummy wooden 

dunker. A submarine. 

Dunkirk. A disastrous retreat; from the 
retreat from Dunkirk of British forces in 
June 1940 (one of the epic events of the 

dustbin. The enemy rear gunner's 
lower position in an airplane. 

dust disturber. An infantryman. 

152 • WAR SLANG 

D.X. man. A radio operator who uses 
his radio to contact people in other 


eager beaver. An underclassman of 
the Army Air Corps during the first 
thirty days of training; by extension, a 
soldier so anxious to impress superiors 
that he would volunteer for any job of- 
fered or in other ways display unusual 

eagle. (1) A student pilot. (2) A bomb. 

eagle day. Payday; also known as "the 
day the eagle shits." The term was a ref- 
erence to the American eagle that ap- 
pears on some coins. Among the phrases 
used to announce payday were "the eagle 
flies," "the eagle screams," and "the ea- 
gle shits." 

eagles' nest. An airfield. 

eaglet. A young aviator. 

earn wings. To be commissioned as a 
second lieutenant in the Army Air 
Corps; from the insignia, a pair of wings. 

earthquake bomb. A six-ton bomb 
that penetrates deeply into the earth be- 
fore exploding, with earthshaking effect. 

ear wardens. Small nipple-shaped de- 
vices made of neoprene. They were in- 
serted into the ear to prevent injury 
resulting from noise shock. The term is 
a play on "air wardens." 

echo. A reflection on a radar screen. 

E.D. Extra duty. 

egg. (1) A man (as in "good egg"). (2) 
An aerial bomb. (3) An error; a Navy 

egg in the deep. A depth bomb, after 
being released. 

egg in your 

good thing. 

beer. Too much of a 

eight ball. A soldier who got into trou- 
ble so much that he was a liability to his 
unit; from the old notion that it is bad 
luck to be behind the eight ball in 
pocket billiards. 

Eisenhower jacket. A short, fitted, 
belted jacket of the type made popular 
by General Dwight D. Eisenhower during 
the war. 

electric cow. A machine used for mix- 
ing powdered milk and water. 

electric stooge. See mechanical rat. 

electronic raspberry. The effect of 
jamming radar by dispersing quantities 
of aluminum foil from airplanes. 

Elsie. A fine imposed by an Army 

Emily Posters. Naval cadets; so-called 
because they were given a condensed 
edition of an etiquette book by Emily 

f no/a Gay. The airplane (a B-29 Super- 
fortress) that dropped an atomic bomb 
on Hiroshima, Japan. 


erk. An airman; an airplane mechanic; 
a beginner. This bit of British slang was 
adopted by many Americans. According 
to the April 1944 issue of Nineteenth 
Century: "In World War I and for some 
years afterwards, an erk meant an air me- 
chanic. The word was probably a short- 
ened pronunciation of air and ch from 
mechanic. In World War II, it came to 
mean a beginner in any field." 

Erpel Heart. A mythical medal. As re- 
counted in Newsweek for March 26, 
1945, the 9th Armored Division seized 
the Remagen bridge over the Rhine in 
March of that year, and thousands of tons 
of supplies crossed it before it collapsed. 
Many drivers of supply trucks crossed it 
so often that they were awarded the order 
of the "Erpel Heart" — a pun on "Purple 
Heart" and on "Erpel," the name of a lit- 
tle town on the Rhine's east bank. The 
"medal" was awarded to drivers who 
made five trips in a single day. 

ersatz. Substitute; synthetic. It was not 
until World War II that the term became 
widely used on the fighting and home 
fronts to signify materials of inferior 
quality, such as ersatz coffee or ersatz 
beer. A. Marjorie Taylor notes in The 
Language of World War II (1948) that it 
was later applied to people, as in "The 
heroine called him an ersatz gentleman." 
See also under World War I. 

E.T.A. Estimated time of arrival. 

E.T.O. European theater of operations. 

E.T.O. happy. Bored. 

expendable. Anything considered only 
as a means to an end. In the words of 

A. Marjorie Taylor, in The Language of 
World War II (1948): "In World War n, 
the term came into general use. It meant 
troops or equipment of any kind that for 
military purposes might be considered 
by the authorities worth consuming en- 
tirely to achieve an end." 

They Were Expendable (1942), by 
W. H. White, did much to fix the term in 
the mind of the public- 
Well, it's like this. Suppose you're a ser- 
geant machine-gunner, and your army is 
retreating and the enemy advancing. The 
captain takes you to a machine gun cov- 
ering the road. "You're to stay here and 
hold this position," he tells you. "For how 
long?" you ask. "Never mind," he answers, 
"just hold it." Then you know you're 
expendable. In a war anything can be ex- 
pendable — money or gasoline or equip- 
ment or most usually men. They are 
expending you and that machine gun to 
get time. 

eyeball. To look over the immediate 

eyes of a ship. Scout duty airplanes. 

eyes of the Army. The Army Air 

Eyeties. Italians. 

eyewash. (1) To pretty up barracks and 
grounds for inspection. (2) Something 
done for effect only. In Words of the 
Fighting Forces, the term is seen in a 
much more negative context: "A deplor- 
able interest in a spick-and-span appear- 
ance rather than an efficient performance 
of a soldier, regiment, army automobile, 
etc." (3) A garnish on food (e.g., raisin 
sauce on plain white cake). 

154 * WAR SLANG 

• -ir F iz • 

face muffler. A gas mask. 

face the enemy. To meet one's wife 
after being out drinking. 

factory buster. A bomb larger than a 


fall out. To quarrel; to dissolve a 

fan. A propeller. 

farmyard nugget. An egg. 

fatal pill. A bullet. 

fat friend. A balloon. 

fatigue dress / fatigues. A loose uni- 
form worn when working; work clothes. 

F.B.I.'s. Forgotten boys (or bastards) of 
Iceland. Army soldiers in Iceland gave 
themselves this nickname. 

F.D. coat. Full-dress coat. 

feather merchant. A civilian; a lazy 
person. Here is an excerpt from the 
jacket copy of Max Shulman's 1944 clas- 
sic of wartime humor, The Feather Mer- 
chants: "Dan Miller is just a happy 
soldier going home on furlough. But he 
is ambushed by an advance patrol of 
feather merchants as he gets off the train 
in Minneapolis." 

Feather Merchant — Word 

Here are three theories about the origin 
of the term: 

(1) Hillbilly dwarfs in the Barney 
Google comic strip were considered 
(prewar) "feather merchants" because 
they "pick up large feathers and fly off, 
waving them like wings" (according to 
Amen'con Notes and Queries of April 

(2) The phrase originated with the 
Navy. "According to a letter by William 
B. Mel lor, Jr., in Newsweek of April 23, 
1 945, it "comes from the crossed-feather 
device worn on the shoulder boards of 
ships' clerks, who are commissioned of- 
ficers, and as a part of petty officers' 
rating badges to signify that they are 
yeomen. Hence a yeoman is a 'feather 
merchant.' The implication, of course, 
was that the yeoman took things easy 
on a swivel chair while the fighting men 
manned the guns. The term is now 
loosely applied to anyone with a 'soft 

(3) In The Feather Merchants, Max. 
Shulman notes that theories abound but 
only one seems worthy of even provi- 
sional credence — that of Professor Herk 
Betzimmer, the famous "one horse phi- 
lologist" of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 
To wit: 

Circa 4500 B.C. two neighboring 
tribes, the Puntangi and the Snafu, went 
to war over the possession of a gap- 
toothed idol named Ed to whom they 
attributed widespread curative powers. 
At that time Ed was well concealed by 
the Snafu. Gluk-Os, chief of the Snafu, 
was taken prisoner and brought before 
Miklos the Scaly, prince of the Puntangi. 
Upon refusing to divulge the location of 
Ed, Gluk-Os was bound and subjected 
to a favorite torture of the day — tickling 
the soles of the feet with feathers. For 
weeks two shifts of Miklos's warriors 
tickled Gluk-Os's feet day and night, but 
he spoke not a word. All the feathers 


in Miklos's court were worn to the nub. 
Miklos ordered more feathers brought to 
him at any cost so that the torture could 
continue. Civilians by the thousands 
plucked their fowl and wives' hats and 
sold the feathers to the army. Hence 
"feather merchants." 

Shulman then adds: "Gluk-Os, inci- 
dently, never did tell where Ed was hid- 
den. The tickling bothered him not in the 
least, for, had the Snafu known, he was 
wearing history's first pair of shoes." 

feed one's face. To eat. 

feeds like a hotel. Said of a ship with 
a sumptuous bill of fare. 

fellow traveler. A person working se- 
cretly for a foreign government; a treach- 
erous person. The term originated in the 
1930s as the name for a follower of com- 
munist doctrines who did not belong to 
the party. 

femarines. The women's reserve of the 
Marine Corps; also called "jungle Ju- 
liets" and "leather-nectarines." The Ma- 
rines insisted that the proper term was 

ferry pilot. An aviator engaged in flying 
aircraft from the factory to the field. 

fiat money. Money made legal by de- 
gree, or fiat, usually by a dictator. 

FIDO. Fog investigation and dispersal 
operation. FIDO systems kept fifteen 
British airfields active even during the 
winter fogs, with the help of landing- 
strip pipes loaded with gasoline; when 
the pipes were ignited (by men running 

alongside the pipes), the flames burned 
off the fog. 

field officer's weather. Perfect flying 

field piece. A field artillery piece. 

fifinella. A female gremlin character 
designed by Walt Disney as an emblem 
for the WASPs (Women's Airforce Serv- 
ice Pilots, under the direction of Jacque- 
line Cochran), who reveled in the motto, 
"Fifinellas don't cry." 

fifth column. Individuals and groups 
engaged in sabotage, espionage, or other 
subversive activities. See also sixth 


Fifth Column — Word History 

Some say that the expression "fifth col- 
umn" originated with General Francisco 
Franco, head of the victorious rebel 
forces in the Spanish Civil War; others 
say the originator was General Emilio 
AAola, another rebel commander. Late in 
1936, in the early stages of the war, 
Franco (or AAola) observed that he had 
four rebel columns to send against loy- 
alist-held Madrid, and a fifth column of 
rebel sympathizers waiting inside the 
city to attack the defenders from the 
rear, when the time was ripe. The ex- 
pression was adapted by the allies to 
refer to traitors or enemy sympathizers. 

52-20 club. World War II veterans 
who, rather than take low-salaried jobs, 
accepted the twenty-dollar-a-week un- 
employment compensation that the gov- 
ernment would pay for fifty-two weeks. 

156 • WAR SLANG 

fighting-hole feet. A disease con- 
tracted from life in foxholes. See also 
trench foot, under World War I. 

fighting tools. Eating utensils (namely, 
a knife, fork, and spoon). 

figurehead. A company clerk (because 
he often served as a stand-in for the com- 

file 13. A wastebasket. 

Filthy Thirteen, The. An Engineers 
Corps demolition unit, composed of Ya- 
qui and Cherokee Indians; also called 
"the Braves." They adopted the name 
"The Filthy Thirteen" in training. A 
communique from the 9th Air Force 
troop carrier base in England, quoted by 
A. Marjorie Taylor in The Language of 
World War II (1948), reported that this 
group of American Indians, in full war 
paint, were among the first paratrooper 
units to go into action in France on June 
6, 1944 (D-day). 

find out the score. To get the correct 

fireworks. An artillery bombardment; a 
disturbance; the end of life. 

first hitch. A first enlistment. 

first line. Troops or ships directly con- 
fronting the enemy. 

fish eyes. Tapioca; from its appear- 

fish hooks. Fingers. 

fishtail. To swing the tail of an airplane 
from side to side to reduce speed when 
coming in for a landing. 

five-in-one rations. Prepackaged food 
that would feed five men for one day or 
one man for five days. 

flak. Antiaircraft fire; from the German 
Fliegerabwehrkanone (a gun used to 
drive off aircraft). Other possible sources 
for the term are discussed in Words of 
the Fighting Forces: 

A burst of fire from an anti-aircraft gun 
or guns. This is a term used by the military, 
however, it comes first from the theater. 
That alert weekly, "Variety," birthplace of 
numerous Americanisms, tried to coin the 
word "flack" as a synonym for publicity 
agent. The word is said to be derived from 
Gene Flack, a movie publicity agent; one 
who sends up interference or messages in 
the hope that some of what he is offering 
will be heeded. Something "Variety" may 
have overlooked, however, is that a Yiddish 
word similar in sound means "one who 
goes around talking about the other fel- 
low's business." 

flak happy. (1) The condition of one 
suffering from combat fatigue; an Army 
Air Corps term. (2) "Slap happy" 
(slightly muddled mentally). 

flak jacket. A padded vest worn by air- 
men as a protection against flak. See 

also FLAK SUIT. 

flak shack. A rest home where men 
who have had too much battle strain — 
who have taken too much flak — go to re- 
lax and regain their composure. 

flak suit. A protective coverall worn by 
military aviators. 


flanker. A tall person. 

flap. (1) A scare or an alarm; by exten- 
sion, any kind of row, inquiry, or excite- 
ment. The term is defined in the novel 
Ten Fighter Boys: "To be in a flap — to be 
all of a dooda — to get all excited about 
nothing. Normally associated with doing 
things in a hurry." (2) An ear. (3) A me- 
chanical device on the wing of an aircraft 
used to increase lift or drag. 

flash. A brief, usually telegraphic 
news dispatch. 

flasher. A member of the Signal Corps. 

flash gun. A machine gun used in 
training. It is linked to a spotlight to 
identify "hits." 

flathatter. A careless pilot; a Navy 

flat out. At top speed; in an "all out" 

flat spin. To act confused. 

flattop. An aircraft carrier; from the flat 
flight deck. The following etymology, 
perhaps mythical, appeared in an article 
on the war's new vocabulary in the April 
1944 issue of Word Study: "This name 
was first applied by a jubilant bomber 
pilot who yelled into his microphone, 
'Scratch one flat top' after he sank a Jap 
carrier. He was pledged not to reveal im- 
portant information and he thought the 
Japs wouldn't be able to decipher that." 

flea circus / flea pasture / flea 
trap. A bed; a bunk. 

flier. (1) An aviator. (2) An airplane or 
other flying machine. (3) Anyone or any- 
thing that moves with great speed. 

flivver. (1) A Ford automobile (a cheap 
motorcar used by the military). (2 J A 
Navy destroyer of the 750-ton class. 

floater. (1) A mine that has broken 
adrift. (2) A woman who follows the 

floating coffin. An unsafe ship. 

floating elephant. A military balloon. 

floating palace. A large and comfort- 
able ship. 

flowerpot. A movable, powered turret 
on an airplane. 

fly-away. An airplane that is flown to 
an overseas command instead of being 
shipped; an airplane flown from the fac- 
tory to a storage depot in the United 

fly blind. To fly by instruments only. 
See also blind flying. 

flyboat. A hydromonoplane. 

flyboy. A glamorous pilot. In I Hear 
America Speaking (1976), Stuart Berg 
Flexner noted that the term was "usually 
used ironically." 

fly by the seat of one's pants. To fly 

by instinct rather than by instruments. 

flying boat. A seaplane with a hull fit 
for floating and designed for long flights. 

158 • WAR SLANG 

flying boxcar. A bomber. 

flying Chinese. See Chinese landing. 

flying coffin. A dilapidated airplane. 

flying column. A strong, fast military 
detachment made up of well-armed, 
highly mobile troops and operating inde- 

flying corps. An air force subdivision 
of an army. 

flying dustpan. A device for dropping 
bombs so they explode in a concentric 
pattern rather than linearly. 

flying eyes of the Army. Reconnais- 
sance or observation airplanes. They 
were used to obtain immediate, accurate 
information about the enemy. The value 
of aerial reconnaissance greatly in- 
creased with the improvement of aerial 
photography. Panchromatic and infrared 
film enabled pictures to be taken through 
haze, fog, and even light clouds. 

Flying Fortress. The Boeing B-17 
heavy bomber, capable of carrying tons 
of bombs and a large crew. The Joint Air- 
craft Committee, in considering names 
for airplanes, favored names of one word, 
so Flying Fortress was officially changed 
to Fortress. However, Flying Fortress is 
what the plane continued to be called 
by just about everyone except the Joint 
Aircraft Committee. 

flying pig. An aerial torpedo. 

flying Scotchman. An expert pilot 
who is very thoughtful about the other 
members of the flying crew. 

flying shotgun. Shrapnel; from its 
scattershot patterns. 

flying streamers. The streams of 
smoke from an airplane swirling down- 
ward to its doom. 

flying wreck. A nervous, careless per- 
son; an Army Air Corps term. 

fly light. To go without a meal. 

fly the iron beam. To fly along a rail- 
road line. 

fly the wet. To fly along a river. 

fog factory. A locality where fogs are 

Foo / Mr. Foo. An imaginary observer 
of military actions, known to American 
and British troops alike. He was de- 
scribed in a naval magazine in 1946: 
"Mr. Foo is a mysterious Second World 
War product, gifted with bitter omni- 
science and sarcasm." 

foo-fighters. Mysterious balls of fire, 
widely alleged to have been sent into the 
air by the Germans. They were described 
in a series of articles in the Rochester, 
New York, Democrat & Chronicle of 
January 2 and January 3, 1945, as re- 
ported by A. Marjorie Taylor in The Lan- 
guage of World War II (1948): 

The balls traveled along at the same rate 
as the night flying planes on raids over Ger- 
many. They were apparently an electrical 
phenomenon related to lightning. They fol- 
lowed not only the speed of the plane, but 
changed speed and direction as the plane 
changed its speed and direction. Appar- 
ently designed by the Nazis as a psycho- 
logical weapon, since the balls did not 
attack the planes. 


foofoo. Perfume; a WAC term. 

foot locker. A small trunk. It is de- 
scribed in Louise D. Parry's The War Dic- 
tionary (1942) as "a small olive-drab- 
colored trunk of a standard size issued 
to each soldier in the army for storing his 
clothing and personal equipment and so 
called because it usually stands at the 
foot of his bed." 

foot slogger. An infantryman; a poor 

for a hell of a long time. Death; for a 
long time; for an indefinite period of 

forget it, sign off. Drop the matter; pay 
no attention; stop talking. 

forty-eight. Two days' liberty. 

four-by-four. A jeep; from its four 
wheels and four-wheel drive. 

four freedoms war. World War II. 

400W. Maple syrup; from the name of 
a thick oil. 

four-o. All right; from the highest Navy 
efficiency rating (4.0). 

four-starrer. A general; an admiral. 

four-striper. A Navy captain; from the 
four stripes indicating rank. 

fourth arm. The Army Air Corps (be- 
cause it came after the Army, Navy, and 
Marine Corps). 

fowl balls. Chicken croquettes. 

foxes. The veterans of the battle of Ba- 
taan, in the Philippines (1942); so-called 
because of their fighting from foxholes. 

foxhole. A one-man slit trench. 

Word History — Foxhole 

The term "foxhole" originated in World 
War I, but came into its own during 
World War II. 

Elbridge Colby writes in Army Talk: A 
Familiar Dictionary of Soldier Speech 


Officially this was long called a "skir- 
misher's trench," but beginning on the 
campaign in France and continuing to 
this day, the soldier speaks of it as a 
"foxhole" — which covers all varieties of 
hasty field entrenchment whether for a 
man kneeling, sitting, standing, or 
prone. This very unofficial character of 
the name simplifies language, making 
one term easily cover all forms without 
being too particular about which form. 
Now, for protection against aerial 
bombs he digs narrower and deeper 
and calls it a "slit trench." 

foxhole circuit. A u.s.o. tour of overseas 
military bases and camps. 

Foxhole University. The United States 
Armed Forces Institute. The term was 
coined by Stephen G. Thompson in This 
Week Magazine (of the New York Herald 
Tribune) of November 19, 1944. 

f rat. See fraternize. 

frat bait. Such items as candy, chewing 
gum, and cigarettes, used by American 
and British soldiers to attract German 
women during the occupation. The prac- 
tice hastened the relaxation of the non- 
fraternization rules for allied troops. 

160 * WAR SLANG 

fraternize. (1) To associate with enemy 
nationals. (2) To have close relations, 
usually sexual, with a female enemy na- 
tional (according to an article in Ameri- 
can Speech for December 1946). By 
extension, the word came to be used also 
with respect to the women of allied 
countries and even American women. 

free board and your own wash- 
ing. An enlistment in the Navy. 

freeze. To hold things where they are; 
to keep prices constant. Early in the war, 
prices in the United States were "frozen" 
at a certain limit. In a separate move, for- 
eign assets were "frozen" in American 
banks and could not be withdrawn. 

freighter. (1) A slow airplane. (2) A 
ship that carries goods, not passengers. 

fresh fish. A Navy recruit. 

fresh-fish squad. A squad of new re- 

fried egg. (1) The insignia of West 
Point, worn as the headpiece on the full- 
dress hat. (2) The Japanese flag; from the 
image of the rising sun. 

frigate. A large woman; from a class 
of ship. 

frigo. Frozen meat. 

fritzkrieg. A German attack; a play on 
fritz (see under World War I) and blitz- 

fritzville. Berlin. 

frog sticker. A bayonet; an infantry 

from Maine to California. All over; 
from one end to the other; everywhere. 

front and center. Step forward! 

fruit salad. Colorful chest decorations. 
"Fruit salad" was the name given by 
servicemen to theater of operations rib- 
bons, service ribbons, and battle stars 
worn on the left side of the uniform 

f ubar. Fouled up (or fucked up) beyond 
all recognition. 

Fujiyama flivver. A Japanese tank. 

full feather. Full naval uniform. 

full fig. Full naval uniform. 

full house. The condition of having 
several diseases at the same time. 

full pack. A soldier's complete equip- 

full-pack slum. A meat pie; from slum/ 
slumguixion (see under the Civil War 
and under World War I). 

funeral glide. The flight of an airplane 
gone out of control. 

fuselage. One's body; a woman's body. 
In its nonslang meaning, the term refers 
to the body of an airplane. 


• * 

a • 

galley sight. An incorrect determina- 
tion of the ship's position. Orlo Misfeldt 
discussed the term in his article "Argot 
of the Sea," in American Speech of De- 
cember 1940: "This term is applied to 
false reports as to ship's position, the in- 
ference being that the unreliable infor- 
mation probably came from the cook 
[who works in the ship's kitchen, or gal- 
ley], who would know less of where the 
ship was than anyone aboard. 'Shaft- 
alley sights' has the same meaning." 

galley yarn. (1) A tall tale; a rumor; 
false information; a swindle; a falsehood. 
(2) Empty talk. 

galvanized gelding. A tank. 

galvanized Guernsey. Canned milk; 
from the Guernsey breed of dairy cow. 

gangplank. (1) An ugly woman. (2) 
Bail from jail. 

gangplank greased for him. Said of 
a sailor dishonorably discharged. 

gangster nations. Germany, Italy, and 
Japan. The description was made popu- 
lar by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Garand. The M-l rifle. This standard 
semiautomatic weapon was so-named 
after its inventor, John Garand, a Pratt 
and Whitney engineer who complained, 
"Not only did I not receive a penny in 
royalties, but nobody pronounced the 
name correctly." ("Garand" is pro- 
nounced with the accent on the first syl- 

garbage catcher. A metal tray with 
eight depressions in which food is 

garrison floats. Army dress shoes. 

garrison sport. A soldier who loafs 
about the post exchange. 

gas hog. One who used too much gaso- 
line during the gasoline shortage, abus- 
ing the gasoline-rationing privileges. 

gas house. A beer garden; a saloon. 

gas-house gang. Chemical warfare 
instructors (because the training they 
gave was to take troops through a "gas 
house" to expose them to war gases). 

gasket. A pancake. 

gasoline cowboy. A member of the ar- 
mored force (usually, a tank driver). 

gaspirator. A gask mask. 

gator. See alligator. 

gear. Radio equipment. 

gear adrift. Disorderly clothing. 

gedunk. Snack food, especially ice 
cream. In a 1982 article on cooking in a 
nuclear submarine, Washington Post 
writer Phyllis Richman reported that 
young sailors insisted that this term for 
junk food came from the sound of vend- 
ing machines dispensing food. But as 
Richman pointed out, the term almost 
certainly first applied to the rich ice 
cream sundaes, sodas, and other confec- 
tions served at prewar soda fountains. 

162 • WAR SLANG 

gedunk stand. A snack bar that serves 
ice cream. The term was soon picked up 
by visitors to Navy ships and installa- 
tions. Lee G. Miller, a reporter for the San 
Francisco News, reported from a cruiser 
in May 1945 on a trip below decks: 
"When we finally emerged from our tour 
we were bathed in sweat and so limp it 
was all we could do to stagger to the ge- 
dunk stand for life-saving ice cream." 

Ice cream was terribly important to 
Navy morale, and cooks and supply offi- 
cers did all they could to provide it. A 
young Navy man who had learned to 
make ice cream in the South Pacific and 
then to flavor it with the exotic fruits and 
flavorings of the area went home to par- 
lay his flavoring ability into an empire. 
He was the late Burt Baskin, cofounder 
of Baskin-Robbins. 

geese. Bombers in flight formation. 

gen. Inside information; anything gen- 
uine. Thus, "bad gen" is false infor- 

general court. A general court-martial. 

General Grant. A type of Army tank. 
It was first used in combat in the Lib- 
yan campaign. 

generalissimo. The woman comman- 
der of the Women's Army Corps 
(the WACs); a play on "generalissimo." 
Chiang Kai-shek of China and Francisco 
Franco of Spain were called "genera- 

General Lee. A type of Army tank. It 
was first used in combat in the Libyan 

general's car. A wheelbarrow. 
germ. A person with gonorrhea. 

germ in the hut. A person in a hospital 
being treated for a venereal disease. 

Geronimo! The battle cry of the para- 
troopers in North Africa. It was first used 
in combat during the airborne invasion 
of November 1942. 


In The Language of World War II (1948), 
A. Marjorie Taylor offers this explana- 
tion of the origin of "Geronimo!": "Para- 
chute troops have to be tough — 'tough 
as the wily old Indian warrior Geron- 
imo, that the Army fought in the South- 
west in the 1880"s and from whom the 
paratroopers got their battle cry.'" 

According to Stuart Berg Flexner, in / 
Hear America Talking (1 976): 

The yell was coined and popularized 
by the many American Indians, espe- 
cially Yakis and Cherokee, in our para- 
troop units. Geronimo (1829-1909), of 
course, was the Apache renegade, the 
prototype of the savage Indian killer to 
the U.S. Army, which had called him 
"the Human Tiger" (he was captured in 
1886 and by 1904 was on exhibit at 
the St. Louis World's Fair). After the war 
Geronimo! became a popular exclama- 
tion of surprise or delight. 

In Why Do We Say Such Things? ( 1 947), 
Bruce Chapman offers a revisionist and 
perhaps more plausible explanation: 

Several members of the first unit of 
parachute troops formed at Fort Ben- 
ning, Georgia went to see the motion 
picture "Geronimo." Afterwards, in deri- 
sive reference to the mock heroics of 
their practice jumps, they started calling 
each other by this name. From this grew 
the paratrooper's practice of shouting 
"Geronimo" as he leaps from the plane. 


Gertrude. An office clerk. 

get. To kill. 

get a grass sandwich. To copulate 
(i.e., to roll about in the grass while mak- 
ing love). 

get a Jap headache. To be wounded 
in action. 

get a Jap sardine. To sink or destroy 
a Japanese submarine. 

get a Jerry battlewagon. To sink or 
destroy a German man-of-war. 

get a Jerry fish. To sink or destroy a 
German submarine. 

get a Jerry sky wagon. To shoot 
down a German aircraft. 

get-alongs. Legs. 

get a pasting. To be badly bombed. 

get cracking. To get started; to get into 
the air. The Army Air Corps borrowed 
this slang phrase from the R.A.F. 

get eager. To strive to be the best. 

get off the ground. To accomplish 

get one's head out of the cockpit. To 

pay attention. 

get on someone's tail. To attack from 
the rear in air combat. 

get the barbwire garters. To receive 
no decorations, special honors, or men- 

tions. See also barbwire garters, under 
World War I. 

ghost. An unusual radar echo for 
which no definite source can be found. 

ghost man. An aircraft carrier's signal 
officer on night duty. Dressed in a fluo- 
rescent-striped suit and using fluores- 
cent paddles, he directs night fighters to 
safe landings on the carrier's deck (as re- 
ported in Newsweek of July 30, 1945). 

ghost walks, the. Said on the day sala- 
ries are paid. The theater brought this 
term into use about 1853; it derives from 
a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet where 
Horatio asks the ghost if it walks because, 
in life, it buried ill-gotten gains. 

ghost walks on the deck, the. Said 
on payday in the Navy. 

G.H.Q. General headquarters (the main 
office of the commander in chief in the 

G.I. (1) Government issue. In this usage, 
the term refers to any article carried by 
the quartermaster. By extension, it came 
to be synonymous with "Army." 

(2) An enlisted soldier; any member 
of the armed forces. This meaning of 
"G.I." did not really take hold until the 
last half of the war. In an April 1943 arti- 
cle in Word Study, "Army Slang," Private 
Richard A. Herzberg says the use of 
"G.I." to mean a soldier himself is "a 
comparatively rare usage." However, by 
the latter days of the war the situation 
had changed. General Dwight D. Eisen- 
hower, referring to the death of war cor- 
respondent Ernie Pyle, said: "Every G.I. 

164 * WAR SLANG 

in Europe — and that means all of us — 
has lost one of his best and most under- 
standing friends." 


We now know something of the way the 
G.I. regarded the two worlds to which 
he belonged, but how did he see him- 
self? The answer probably lies in the 
term he chose to describe himself: G.I. 
The origin of this abbreviation is much 
debated, but it was undoubtedly used 
in the Old Army for "government issue." 
One story is that the Regulars used it 
as a derogatory label for early draftees, 
since they were content to wear what 
the Army gave them- — i.e., government 
issue — rather than buy commercially 
made items of uniform that would have 
given them a smarter appearance. If 
obscurity surrounded the derivation of 
"G.I.," its various meanings were also a 
source of much confusion for the uniniti- 
ated. Thus, a man who had "the G./.s" 
was afflicted with the Army's version of 
diarrhea. Used in another way, as in 
"too G.I.," the term meant a person or 
organization that rigidly adhered to 

— G.I.: The American Soldier in 
World War II, by Lee Kennett 

G.I. ashcan. A heavy artillery shell. 

G.I. Bill. Legislation setting up finan- 
cial benefits for veterans of World War II. 
The benefits were outlined in Time for 
June 26, 1944: (1) speedy settlement of 
all disability claims; (2j the aid of a veter- 
ans' placement bureau in finding a job, 
and unemployment insurance for a 
maximum of one year; (3) government 
guarantee of fifty percent of any loan for 
as much as $4,000 to be applied toward 
the purchase or repair of a home, farm, 

or business property; (4) a free year or 
more of college, depending on length of 
service, if the veteran was under twenty- 
five when he entered the service. The bill 
was signed into law by President Frank- 
lin D. Roosevelt in June 1944. 

G.I. brat. A child of a member of the 
armed forces. 

Gibson girl. A hand-cranked radio 
transmitter included in aircraft life rafts; 
so-called from its wasp-waisted shape, 
reminiscent of the beautiful, idealized 
women drawn by Charles D. Gibson. 

G.I. can. (1) An ashcan or a garbage 
can. This term was in use in the Army 
long before World War II; in this in- 
stance, "G.I." stands for "galvanized 
iron." (2) An artillery shell. (3) A cook- 
ing vessel. 

G.I. cocktail. A dose of salts used as 
a laxative. 

gigadier brendal. A brigadier general. 

G.I. haircut. Hair cut to a length of 
one inch. 

G.I. hop. A government-sponsored dance 
for enlisted men to which "G.I. girls" 
were brought by official chaperones. 

G.I. Jane. A member of the wacs; also 
called "G.I. Jill" and "G.I. Josephine." 

G.I. Joe. A soldier. Dave Breger, the 
popular cartoonist, claimed to be the 
originator of the term in a February 26, 
1945, letter to Time magazine. "G.I. Joe 
Trooper" was the name of his cartoon 


hero, whose exploits and misadventures 
he used in a series of cartoons for Yank, 
the Army weekly. The first of the Breger 
strips appeared in the issue of June 17, 

G.I. moe. An Army mule. 

gimper / goofer. A skilled airman. See 
both terms under World War I. 

gink. A stupid person. 

ginkus. A contrivance; a thingamajig. 

G.I. party. The traditional Friday-night 
major cleanup of barracks to prepare for 
Saturday-morning inspection. 

G.I. round table. An educational pro- 
gram, sponsored by the War Department, 
planned for all the camps and theaters 
of war. 

G.I. shits. Diarrhea; almost certainly 
from the medical term "gastrointestinal." 

G.I. sky pilot. A chaplain. 

gism. Gravy. 

G.I. struggle. A dance at an Army 

G.I. turkey. Corned beef. 

G. Ivan. A Russian soldier; a play 
on g.i. 

give a bellyful of hot lead. To shoot; 
to riddle with bullets. 

give a bum steer. To give false infor- 

give a dirty eye / give a dirty blim / 
give a dirty lamp / give a dirty orb / 
give a dog eye. To give a hostile look. 

give a good working over. To do vio- 
lence; an Army term. 

give an inch of cold iron. To stab; a 
Marine Corps term. 

give cold steel. To stab; to attack with 
a bayonet. 

give half a chance. To supply an op- 

give it the air. (1) To apply power to 
an airplane. (2) To apply the air brakes 
on a truck. 

give it the deep six, brother. Forget 
it; from older naval slang for burial at 
sea, which was known as "the deep six," 
probably from the custom of burying 
people six feet underground. 

give it the gun. To step on the gas. 

give lead medicine to a Nip. To 

shoot or kill a Japanese. See also nip. 

give someone a dose of his own 
medicine. To take revenge; to retaliate. 

give the gun. (1) To apply power; to 
increase speed. (2) To shoot; to kill. 

give the weeps. To attack with tear- 
gas bombs. 

G.I. war. An Army military maneuver. 

gizmo / gismo. Anything or anyone 
with an unknown or forgotten name. 

166 • WAR SLANG 

glamor boy. A draftee; a recruit. Sol- 
diers of the regular Army used the term 
to refer to National Guard soldiers as 
well as inductees. 

glass house. A power-operated glass 
and metal turret in an airplane. 

glide bomb. To bomb from an airplane 
by descending at an angle of less than 
sixty-five degrees from the horizontal 
when releasing bombs. See also dive 


glider. (1) An expert dancer. (2) An 
gineless airplane. 


gloom pan / gloom puss / gloomy 
pan / glump / glum pan / glum pot / 
glum puss on a holiday. An irritable 
or gloomy person; a pessimist. 

glory wagon. A flying fortress. 

G-Man. A garbageman. 

gnome. A member of the 2nd Battalion; 
also called a "runt." 

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Smaller War 
Plans Corporation. Taking aim at the 
bloated language of government, he 
drafted a famous memo containing the 
line: "Anyone using the words 'activa- 
tion' or 'implementation' will be shot." 
Maverick coined the term with the tur- 
keys of his native Texas in mind. The 
birds would end their gobbling with a 
loud "gook" sound. 

go down blazing. (1) To be killed or 
wounded while fighting the enemy. (2) 
To fall in flames (said of an airplane or 
of the people in it). 

go downstairs. To parachute from an 

God's country. The United States. 

go for a Spanish walk. To desert from 
the Navy. 

go in baldheaded. To be prepared for 
any eventuality. 

go into a scramble. To take off in an 

go-ashores. A sailor's best uniform. go into a tailspin. To get mad. 

go-away cart. A hearse; an ambu- 

go-away cog. Fast driving. 

go-away kiss. A bullet. 

gobbledygook. Talk or writing that is 
long, pompous, vague, or tangled, usu- 
ally with Latinized words. The word was 
created by Maury Maverick when he be- 
came the wartime chairman of President 

go into dry dock. To be hospitalized 
(as a ship is taken out of the water for re- 

gold bird/gold buzzard. An eagle in- 

goldfish / goldfish in a tin 
coat. Canned salmon. 

Gold Fish Club. An organization whose 
membership was limited to airmen who 


had crashed into the ocean. It was 
founded by Lieutenant Colonel Baden- 
Powell Weil. 

good show. Well done (a term of 
praise). This R.A.F. slang was eagerly 
adopted by American airmen. "Cracking 
good show" was the highest possible 
praise, while "bad show" conveyed criti- 
cism or functioned as a comment on any 
regrettable happening. 

good-time Charley. A person given to 
carousing; a generous person. 

goop bomb. A 500-pound incendiary 
bomb made of clusters of six-pound 
bombs packed with jellied oil and mag- 
nesium, each of which spread flame over 
a radius of thirty yards; so-called because 
the "fiery jellied oil contents" of the 
bomb suggested a sticky mass, which in 
laboratory slang is known as "goop." 
Goop bombs were dropped on Japan in 
March 1945. 

goose it. To feed gas to an engine in 
irregular spurts; from "goose" in the 
sense of a poke in the anus. 

good-time Charley act. (1) Dissipated 
behavior. (2) Generous behavior. 

goof burner. A person who uses mari- 

goof off. To loaf; to avoid work; to make 
a mistake. A person could goof off in any 
number of ways. 

goofs off. A person who makes mis- 

gook. A derogatory term for a Melane- 
sian or Polynesian native in the Pacific 
theater. See also under the Spanish- 
American War and under the Korean 

goon. (1) A soldier who falls into the 
lowest category in Army classification. 
This term dates back to the fourteenth 
century (in the writings of Geoffrey 
Chaucer, it means "thug"). In the "Pop- 
eye" comic strip during the 1930s, a stu- 
pid character was called the Goon. (2) 
Any person of subnormal intelligence. 

goose step. The German straight- 
legged marching step, which came to 
symbolize the Germans as rigid, con- 
formist, and grotesque. See also under 
World War I. 

Bruce Chapman, in Why Do We Say 
Such Things? (1947), gives this history 
of the term: 

The name "goose step" was originally 
applied to a British setting-up exercise in 
which a new recruit was made to stand on 
one leg and swing the other backward and 
forward without bending the knee, just as 
a goose stands on one leg and swings the 
other. Because of a similarity of appear- 
ance — in particular, the straightened 
knee — the term was applied to the German 
military march step in which the foot is 
raised sufficiently to give it a twenty-inch 

go over. To parachute from an aircraft; 
to attack. 

go over the blue wall. To be commit- 
ted to a hospital for the insane. 

go over the hill. To go absent without 
leave; to desert. 

168 * WAR SLANG 

go over the side. (1) To parachute 
from an aircraft. (2) To leap from the side 
of a ship. 

goozlum. Gravy; syrup. This old log- 
ger's term was adopted for Army use. 

go to Davy. To be buried at sea. See 
also davy iones and davy jones's locker, 
under the Civil War. 

go-to-hell hat. A soft overseas cap. 

go to the mat for. To uphold; to sup- 
port; to be willing to fight for. "Mat" here 
refers to a wrestling mat. 

go to the movies. To go into air 

go to work on. To assault; to attack. 

go up. To take off in an airplane. 

go upstairs. To climb to a high altitude 
in an airplane. 

government bouquet. A government 
issue of laundry soap. 

government mouth-organ, (l) A mili- 
tary counsel. (2) A member of the judge 
advocate general's department. 

grandma. A heavy howitzer. 

grand slam. The enemy plane has 
been shot down (radar code). 

grapeshot. Pudding. 

grapevine. Rumor; unconfirmed gos- 
sip. See also under the Civil War. 

grass. Salad. 

grass cutter. (1) A fragmentation bomb 
that explodes on contact, spraying metal 
fragments over a wide area. The same in- 
stinct to give a horrific weapon a bucolic 
name can be seen in the naming of the 
powerful "daisy cutter" used in the Viet- 
nam War. (2) The A-20A attack plane 
(because it flies so low). 

grasshopper. A reconnaissance air- 

gravel crusher. An infantryman. 

graveyard stew. (1) Milk toast. (2) A 
weak stew consisting mostly of bones 
(like slumgullion without body — see 
slum / slumgullion, under the Civil War). 

A Stanza to Graveyard Stew 

Francis Raymond Meyer's Fighting Talk 
(1 942) quotes this song about graveyard 
stew, sung to the tune of "God Bless 

God bless our graveyard stew 

No other stew will do 

Like graveyard stew 

Be careful what you take 

Over upon your plate 

Or you will get a bellyache 

On graveyard stew 

graybacks. (1) Lice. (2) German sol- 
diers; from the color of their uniform. 

gray ghost. A flight school com- 
mander's airplane; so-called because it is 
the last plane one rides in before being 


grease ape. A mechanic. 

WORLD WAR If • 169 

grease hound. A mechanic. 

grease monkey. A mechanic's assis- 

greasepot. A cook. 

great one, the. (1) God. (2) A general. 
(3) A person of importance. 

great unknown, the. (1) Death. (2) 
Hash; meat loaf; meat pie. 

green hornet. A difficult military prob- 
lem that must be solved quickly. 

greenhouse. A shell of light, durable, 
transparent plastic that covers a bom- 
bardier's or gunner's cockpit. 

greenie. A recruit. 

green light hotel. A "prophylactic sta- 
tion" (i.e., a place where one gets con- 
doms before getting a green light to 
proceed to town). 

gremlin. One of the mythical "little 
people" who make things go wrong, par- 
ticularly on airplanes. In Time of Sep- 
tember 14, 1942, many Americans first 
heard of them with this account: "The 
R.A.F. first learned about the little crea- 
tures in 1923 and called them grem- 
lins — probably from the obsolete Old 
English transitive verb greme, meaning 
to vex. Yet it was not until World War II 
that the R.A.F. really got to know the 

Another account, by John Moore, from 
the Observer of November 8, 1942, says 
that they were called gremlins because 
"they were the goblins which came out 
of Fremlin beer bottles." 

Newsweek of September 7, 1943, 
quotes the following dispatch from Mer- 
rill Mueller, chief of the magazine's Lon- 
don bureau: 

The great-grandaddy of all "bloody 
Gremlins" was born in 1923 in a beer bottle 
belonging to a Fleet Air Arm pilot whose 
catapult reconnaissance plane was cursed 
with perpetual engine trouble. This pilot 
was overloaded with beer the night before a 
practice maneuver, when the engine failed 
and he crashed into the waves. Rescued he 
said the engine failed because little people 
from a beer bottle had haunted him all 
night and had got into the plane's engine 
and controls during the flight. . . . "the 
bloody Gremlins did it." 

This article also says that American 
gremlins are called "Yehudis" because 
they are always "fiddling about" (this 
was a play on the name of violinist Ye- 
hudi Menuhin). 

Expert "gremlinologists" recorded the 
characteristics of four new species in 
American Notes and Queries for Novem- 
ber 1942: genus Jockey, which guided 
seagulls or pigeons into an airplane's 
windscreen; genus Incisor, whose young 
teethed on an airplane's control wires; 
genus Optic, which cast a kind of glow 
over the bombsight just as it was being 
lined on a target; and genus Cavity, 
which riddled airfields with trouble- 
some little holes. 

gremlin grange. A rest home for air- 
men suffering from battle fatigue. The 
phrase originated with the R.A.F. — any- 
one who saw a gremlin was ready for the 
gremlin grange. 

grind organ. A machine gun. 
grind to hamburger. To do violence. 

170 • WAR SLANG 

grizzle guts. (1) A quarrelsome or ill- 
tempered person. (2) A drill sergeant. 

ground. To prohibit an aircraft or an 
airman to fly. 

groundage. Prohibition from flying. 

ground gripper. A person who does 
not fly. 

groundhog. A nonflying member of 
the air service. 

ground rat. An infantryman. 

gruesome twosomes. Government- 
issue shoes; a WAC term. 

grumlin. A "saboteur of the spirit" on 
the home front. The name was coined by 
Sam Rayburn, speaker of the House of 
Representatives. "The Grumlin," Ray- 
burn declared, "does the same job of 
sabotage on the home front that the 
Gremlin does to the airplanes of our pi- 
lots fighting the Axis." 

grunt. An electrician's helper; an Army 
Signal Corps term. See also under the 
Vietnam War. 

grunt and growler. A fault finder; a 

g-suit. A suit adopted by the Army Air 
Corps for fighter pilots, to keep them 
from losing consciousness in steep dives. 
It was also called an "anti-g suit"; "g" 
stands for "gravity." 

G-2. (1) Military intelligence. (2) In- 
quisitiveness. (3) To figure something 
out; to prophesy. 

guardhouse lawyer. (1) A soldier who 
has some knowledge of regulations and 
military law and gives advice freely to 
men who are in trouble. (2) A talkative 

gu-gu. A Filipino. See also goo-goo 
under the Spanish-American War. 

gump on the brown. Fried chicken. 
"Gump" was an old hobo term for 

gun. The throttle of an airplane engine. 

gung ho. The nickname for Lieutenant 
Colonel (later Brigadier General) Evans 
Fordyce Carlson, and the battle cry of the 
unit he organized and led, the 2nd Ma- 
rine Raider Battalion. Gung Ho was also 
the name given to the Raider camp on 
Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides. See 
also under the Korean War. 

Gung Ho — A Word History 

"Carlson of the Raiders," an article by 
Don Burke in Life of September 20, 
1943, quotes Carlson on the origin of 
the Raiders' use of "gung ho": 

As we went along, I told the boys 
everything we were doing and invited 
criticism and suggestions. And we got 
them. I was trying to build up the same 
sort of working spirit I had seen in 
China where all the soldiers dedicated 
themselves to one idea and worked to- 
gether to put that idea over. I told the 
boys about it again and again. I told 
them of the motto of the Chinese Coop- 
eratives, Gung Ho. It means Work To- 
gether — Work in Harmony. It was hard 
at first to make them understand since 
we are essentially a selfish people. But 
gradually, the longer we were together 
and the more I had a chance to talk with 
them, they began to feel it. AAy motto 


• 171 

caught on and they began to call them- 
selves the Gung Ho Battalion. When I 
designed a field jacket to replace the 
bulky and orthodox pack they even 
called it the Gung Ho jacket. And they 
named every new thing Gung Ho. It be- 
came the watchword. 

gun the potatoes. To replenish the po- 
tato dish at mess. 

gun-up. To attack; to go into action. 

gunwale. A large woman; from the 
suggestion of "gun whale" in the gun- 
wale of a ship, which is the upper edge 
of its side. 

gut-packings. Food; rations. 

guy with a round haircut. A recruit; 
an unsophisticated person. The expres- 
sion derives from the bowl-style haircut 
given to recruits. 

gyrene. A Marine. The term was used 
very generally throughout the Pacific 
theater of operations and was said at the 
time to have been applied to the Marines 
by the Chinese. It has also been sug- 
gested that the term may be a blend of 
"G.I." and "Marine." Another possibility 
is that it derived from an old British sea 
term. In Sea Slang of the Twentieth Cen- 
tury, Wilfred Granville asserts that ger- 
ines was a 19th century Royal Navy term 
for the Royal Marines. 

The term has remained in use since 
World War II despite efforts by the De- 
partment of Defense to eliminate it. The 
New York Times Magazine for June 5, 
1955, in an article entitled "Pentagon 
Parlance," reported: "Few terms in the 
Pentagon's current lexicon have pro- 

voked official disapproval, and even 
those that have don't disappear because 
of it. Despite a Navy directive to cut it 
out, Navy pilots remain Airedales' and 
Marines are still 'Gyrenes.'" 

gyrenes on the march. Marines going 
into action. 

gyrenes on the wing. Marine Corps 

gyrene's picnic. An attack by Marines 
against the Japanese. 

• -tr H * * 

half-lieut. A second lieutenant (i.e., not 
a full lieutenant). 

half-track. A vehicle with wheels in 
front and a track assembly in the rear; 
often miscalled by civilians an "ar- 
mored car." 

halt and freeze. To come to attention. 

ham. (1) A recruit; a novice; an awk- 
ward person. (2) An amateur radio op- 

hamfist. An airman who wishes to be- 
come a pilot but has no instinct for fly- 
ing. Such men often remained in the Air 
Corps in other capacities. 

ham shack. An amateur radio station; 
a building from which an amateur radio 
station does its broadcasting. 

hand a gong. 

a flier. 

To hand out a medal to 

172 • WAR SLANG 

handcuff volunteer. One who is or- 
dered on a work detail. 

hand grenade. A hamburger. 

handmade. A handmade cigarette. 

hand out the washing. To hang up a 
display of signal flags. 

hand to hand. (1) Married; in close 
union. (2) Close fighting. 

hangar. A drinking establishment. 

hangar flying. Conversation about fly- 
ing and kindred subjects. 

hangar lice. Airplane mechanics. 

hangar pilot. One who does his best 
"flying" in conversation. 

hangar shyster. An airplane mechanic 
who talks a lot about airplanes in the 
manner of a conniving lawyer. 

hangar warrior. An airplane me- 
chanic who boasts about what he would 
do if he were a pilot. 

hang fire. To hesitate; to hold in a state 
of suspension. The term derives from be- 
ing said of a gun when the charge does 
not rapidly ignite. 

hang out the laundry. To drop para- 
troopers from airplanes. 

-happy. Crazy about; exhilarated by (a 
combining form). According to an article 
by Dwight L. Bolinger, in American 
Speech of February 1944, "slap-happy" 

was apparently the first such term. 
Others included "Hitler-happy," "bar- 
happy," "stripe-happy," "bomb-happy," 
and "trigger-happy." 

harborlight. A companion; one who 
takes care of a friend who has been 

harbormaster. One's wife or mistress. 

hard-case. A quarrelsome or ill- 
tempered person. 

hard-roll. A packaged cigarette (in con- 
trast to a handmade). 

hard soup. Liquor. 

hardtail. An Army mule. 

hardware. Firearms. 

hash burner. A cook. 

hash mark. A straight stripe on a sol- 
dier's uniform that denotes a period of 
service, usually a minimum of three 
years per stripe. Hash marks are not to 
be confused with chevrons, which are 
v-shaped and indicate rank. 

haul. The distance flown by an aircraft 
on a military mission. 

have one's number on it. Said of a 
bullet or piece of shrapnel that hits one. 

haywire. Broken; out of order. The 
term derives from the notion that broken 
farm implements are often repaired with 
hay baling wire. 


head. (1) A head man. (2) A latrine. 

head for the barn. To return in an air- 
plane to an aircraft carrier. 

head resistance. The resistance of- 
fered by a head wind. 

headset. A radio receiver worn on 
one's head. 

heartburn. (1) A sweetheart, wife, or 
mistress. (2) To be in love. 

heaven kissing. (1) Dreaming. (2) 
Touching the clouds in an airplane. 

heavies. Heavy artillery. 

heavy heeled. Well armed. 

heavy weapons. A company or other 
unit armed with machine guns. 

hedgehopper. A pilot who flies so low 
he has to hop over obstacles on the 

Heinie. A German; anything German. 
The term derives from the name Hein- 
rich, the German equivalent of Henry. 

hell afloat. A ship commanded by a 
stern captain. 

hell buggy. A tank. 

hell cat. A bugler. 

hell chariot. A tank. 

hell to pay. The need to make up for 
one's mistakes. 

hen. A bombardier; so-called because 
he is responsible for the "laying of the 
eggs" (dropping bombs). 

hep. Intelligent; wise to what is hap- 
pening. The term is a variant of "hip." 

herdbound. A soldier or work animal 
unfit for military duty. 

Hershey bar. A gold insignia worn on 
a soldier's lower left sleeve, denoting six 
months' overseas duty; named for the fact 
that the nation's most popular chocolate 
bar had the same name as Lewis B. Her- 
shey, director of Selective Service. 

high and dry on a tub. Aboard a ship 
when aground; beached. 

highball. To run with the throttle wide 
open, as a train. 

higher than a Georgia pine. Very ex- 

higher-up. A person holding senior 
rank or office. 

high flier. A person inclined to go to 
extremes in anything; an aviator. 

high hat. An expert aviator. 

highpockets. A tall, lanky person. 

Hit and Muss. Hitler and Mussolini. 

hit-and-run battleship. A battleship 
used for making sudden attacks on mer- 
chant shipping and then escaping. Presi- 
dent Franklin D. Roosevelt used the term 
in a radio broadcast of May 27, 1941: "In 

174 • WAR SLANG 

this second world war, however, the 
problem is greater because the attack on 
the freedom of the seas is now fourfold: 
first, the improved submarine; second, 
the much greater use of the heavily 
armed raiding cruiser, or hit-and-run 
battleship . . ." 

hitch. An enlistment. See under World 
War I. 

hitch mark. An Army service stripe, 
denoting a certain number of years of 

Hitler hearse. An Army tank. The term 
seems to have been coined by Walter 
Winchell in his "On Broadway" syndi- 
cated newspaper column for July 31, 

Hitlerist. One who believes in Hit- 
lerian dogma. 

Hitlerize. To make into a hitlerist. 

Hitlerland. Germany; the countries con- 
quered by Germany. 

hit the beach. To go on shore leave. 

hit the deck / hit it. (1) To land an air- 
plane. (2) To get out of one's bunk in the 
morning. Medics on a surprise early- 

shout, "Hit the deck for pecker check." 
hit the hay. To go to bed. 

hit the silk / hit the silkworm. To 

parachute from an airplane (parachutes 
of the time were made of silk). 

hive. To discover; to catch. 

hivey. Quick to learn. 

Hobby lobby. The office of Colonel 
Oveta Culp Hobby, commander of the 

hog caller. A portable loudspeaker. 

holiday. A space left unswept in a 
minesweeping operation. 

Hollywood private. An acting corpo- 
ral (one waiting for a corporalcy). 

Holy Joe. A clergyman. 

Holy Joe's mate. A Navy chaplain. 

home west of the divide. One's "loca- 
tion" after death. 

homing device. A furlough. 

honey barge. A garbage scow. 

honey wagon. A rolling toilet; a 
wagon or truck used in collecting refuse 
at an Army post. 

hook. (1) A hypodermic needle. Calling 
it a hook was undoubtedly a way of terri- 
fying recruits. (2) A chevron; from its 

Horehouse Heato. Emperor Hirohito. 

horizontal drill. Sleep; resting in bed. 

horse a ship. To point the nose of an 
airplane toward the earth. 

horse croaker / horse doctor. A vet- 
erinary surgeon. 


hot landing. An airplane landing 
made with the plane not in a fully stalled 
attitude, usually with excess speed. 

hot pilot / hotshot. An expert aviator; 
a person of extraordinary ability. 

hot plane. An aircraft requiring careful 
handling because of its high takeoff ° 
landing speed. 


hot spot. (1) A dangerous position 
while under fire. (2) Hell. 

hot stuff. (1) Large-caliber shells. (2) 
An exclamation of approval. 

how. A toast; probably short for 
"Here's how!" 

howler. (1) A faultfinder; a complainer. 
(2) An air-raid siren. 

H.P. Hot pilot (an expert pilot). 

hubba hubba. An exclamation of ap- 
probation, thrill, or enthusiasm by a man 
for a woman. According to an article in 
American Speech of February 1947, the 
term was very widely used during the 
war — on the radio, in the movies, in 
several popular songs, and in general 
conversation. The English Dialect Dic- 
tionary (1898) notes this possible ety- 
mology: "Hubba — a cry given to warn 
fishermen of the approach of pilchards." 
This meaning accords very well with the 
way "hubba hubba" was used during 
the war. 

huff duff. High-frequency direction- 
finding device (an instrument for de- 
tecting and plotting the direction of radio 
signals from distant sources). During the 

war, the device was used to determine the 
location of covert transmitters. 

hulaland. Hawaii. 

human cyclones. Marines. 

hump. The spur of the Himalayas that 
separates Assam and Yunnan and cuts 
through western China. See also over 


hungry hill. The married noncommis- 
sioned officers' quarters. 

hush boat. A mystery boat. 

hustling hooker. A prostitute. 

Hyde Park Ranger. A British street- 

hydroship. A hydroplane. 

hypo happy. Enamored of photogra- 
phy. "Hypo" is sodium thiosulfate, used 
as a fixing agent in developing. 

I.C. Inspected and condemned (as unfit 
for further military use). These letters are 
placed on any article so acted upon. 

icebird. A soldier or Coast Guardsman 
assigned to duty in the far north. 

ice up. (1) To have ice form on the 
wings of an airplane. (2) To snub or ne- 

ice wagon. A large Catalina Flying 

176 * WAR SLANG 

I.D. (1) Intelligence Department. (2) A 
soldier given to spreading rumors. 

I'll see you in hell first. I will not 
do so. 

I'm with you. Yes; I agree (i.e., an af- 
firmative response). 

in a spin. In an unsettled state of mind. 

in a tight spot. In difficulty; in trouble. 

incendiary. A bomb that, upon explod- 
ing, spreads a fire that cannot be extin- 
guished with water but has to be 
smothered with chemicals, sand, or 
some other substance. Originally, the 
term referred to a person who willfully 
set fire to a building or other property. 

in everybody's mess and nobody's 
watch. Said of a pest or busybody (i.e., 
one who is there for meals, but not 

ink. Black coffee. 

in low water. Short of funds. 

in stir. In confinement as a punishment. 

international date line. A date with a 
woman in a foreign port. 

in the drink. Downed at sea. 

in the gravy. In comfortable circum- 
stances; assigned to an easy task. 

in the library. Flying by instruments. 

in the tub. (1) Aboard Ship. (2) About 
to be washed out; a play on "washtub." 

invasion foot. A condition character- 
ized by a tingling, burning sensation in 
the lower extremities followed within 
forty-eight hours by numbness and 
swelling (a form of frostbite); also called 
"immersion foot." This malady and the 
terms for it had an unwelcome revival 
during the Korean War. 

in velvet. Well supplied with money; 
assigned to an easy task. 

Irish grapes. White potatoes. 

Irish horse. Tough corned beef. 

Irish promotion. A demotion in rank. 

iron Betsy. A rifle. 

ironcladder. A severely chaste woman. 

iron crab. A steel pillbox that could be 
moved from place to place. 

iron derby / iron hat. A steel helmet. 

iron fireman / iron Mike. An auto- 
matic pilot for an airplane. The device 
made an early appearance in Zack Mos- 
ley's "Smilin' Jack" comic strip for May 
10, 1942. 

iron horse / iron mule. A tank. 

iron pineapple. A grenade with a 
pineapple-like surface. 

island hop. To make military advances 
by seizing an island and using it as a base 
to seize the next island. The term was 
used in the Pacific theater. 


is-was. A calculating device resem- 
bling a circular slide rule (used to get 
bearings in a submarine). 

* if J * * 

J. Coffee, short for Java. 

jaafu. Joint Anglo-American foul-up 
(or fuck-up). 

jacfu. Joint American-Chinese foul-up 
(or fuck-up). 

jack. A corporal. 

jack of the dust. A petty officer in 
charge of coffee, cream, and sugar. 

Jackson. A soldier (a form of address). 

J.A.G. Judge advocate general. 

jalopy. An old, reconditioned aircraft 
or automobile. 

jam. To interfere with radio reception 
by transmitting on the same frequency. 

jam card. A report of bad conduct. 

jamming. Intentional introduction of 
spurious radiation into radio and radar 
frequencies to make the message unintel- 

jamoc / jamoke. Coffee; from the 
blending of "Java" and "mocha," two 
types of coffee yielding a strong black 

jamoke-hound. A coffee addict. 

ja moke-tub. A vessel used for brew- 
ing coffee. 

jane. A woman. 

jane-crazy. Overly fond of women. 

janfu. Joint Army-Navy foul-up (or fuck- 

Jap. (1) A Japanese. (2) Anything Jap- 

Japanazi. A Japanese or a German. 
This term was a wartime coinage of col- 
umnist and radio commentator Walter 

Japanese powder. Cocaine. 

Jape. A Japanese. The slur was given to 
the Japanese by the Marines in the Mari- 
anas Islands. The word, a combination of 
"Jap" and "ape," was reported by Ernie 
Pyle in his dispatches. 

Japland. Japan. 

Jap sugar. Cocaine. 

Jap whale. A Japanese submarine. 

jarhead. (1) An Army mule. (2) A 

Java. Coffee (whether actual Java coffee 
or not). 

Java and sidearms. Coffee with 
cream and sugar. 

jawbone. (1) Credit. (2) To charge, as 
an account. 

178 • WAR SLANG 

jawbreakers. Army biscuits. 

jayhawker. A lawless soldier; a guer- 
rilla fighter. 

jazz it. To dive close to the ground in 
an airplane. 

jeep. (1) A small, low, khaki-colored car 
in general use in the Army. (2) A rookie; 
a recruit. 

Jeep — Word History 

A powerful, sturdy, and versatile vehi- 
cle, the jeep became known everywhere 
American soldiers went. The name 
gained immediate approval and now 
seems to be universally accepted. It is 
applied to any number of jeep-style ve- 
hicles, including some made in coun- 
tries that were America's enemy during 
the war. 

As A. Marjorie Taylor reports in The 
Language of World War II (1948): 'The 
car itself was not invented by any one 
person, but evolved gradually, a need 
for such a type of car being felt in World 
War I. The earliest experimental models 
(made by Willys-Overland, American 
Bantam, and Ford) were nicknamed 
Beep, Bug, Blitz, Buggy, Chigger, 
Midget, Puddle Jumper, Peep, etc." 

Several sources, including American 
Speech of February 1943, give this ac- 
count of its nicknaming. In February 
1941, the first Willys model was being 
put through tests in Washington, D.C., 
with Katharine Hillyer, a staff writer for 
the Washington Daily News, as a pas- 
senger. Someone asked the driver the 
"name of that thing, mister," and was 
told, "It's a Jeep." A picture of the car, 
with "jeep" in the caption, appeared in 
the Washington Da/7y News on Febru- 
ary 19, 1941. 

The term "jeep" had appeared in E. C. 
Segar's "Popeye" comic strip as early as 

March 16, 1936, which may have been 
the source for the name of the car, ac- 
cording to this letter of June 23, 1944, 
written by William Howlett, of Carl By- 
oir and Associates: 

Your recent letter to Willys-Overland 
Motors regarding the genesis of the 
word Jeep has been referred to this of- 
fice for answering since we handled 
public relations matters for the 

We feel that the word originated with 
Segar, King Features cartoonist, who un- 
til his recent death wrote the Popeye 
strip. You will recall that in this feature 
there was a character called the "Jeep" 
which lived on orchids and could go 
anywhere and do anything. 

It is our contention that the boys in 
the service picked this name up from 
Segar and applied it to the Willys vehi- 
cle which has many of the "go any- 
where, do anything" characteristics of 
the Popeye character. 

However, the following two items fo- 
cus on an alternative explanation. 

The first is from an article by Marsh 
Maslin in the San Francisco Ca//-Bu//et/n 
of November 22, 1941: "Do you know 
why those swift little army cars are 
called 'jeeps'? It's Model G-P produced 
by that automobile manufacturer — and 
G-P easily becomes 'jeep.'" 

The second is from Why We Say 
(1953), by Robert L. Morgan: "The pro- 
nunciation of initials sometimes gives 
the English language a brand-new 
word. This is what happened when a 
new kind of United States Army vehicle 
was officially named 'General Purpose 
Car.' It was first referred to by its initials, 
G.P., and you can easily see how this 
became the very popular 'jeep.'" 

jeepable. Impassable except by jeep 
(said of a rough road). 

jeep nurse. A jeep driver. 


jeepny. A jitney bus built on a jeep 
body and an important mode of trans- 
portation in the Philippines after the 

jeeptown. Detroit, Michigan (because 
Army jeeps were manufactured there). 

jeepville. (1) Detroit, Michigan (be- 
cause Army jeeps were manufactured 
there). (2) The barracks or quarters of in- 
coming recruits (presumably because 
one first encountered jeeps there). 

jeepy. Screwy. 

jeeter. A lieutenant. 

jerk. An unpopular, clumsy, or odd per- 
son; probably from "jerkwater town." 

jerk-pot. A spendthrift. 

jerrican / Jerry-can. A five-gallon con- 
tainer designed by the Germans (see 
jerry) and used mostly to hold gasoline. 
A great many of the flat-sided cans could 
be stacked in trucks and then thrown out 
along the roads used by military forces, 
so ready supplies of gasoline would be 
available, enabling the forces to move 
rapidly in the field. German field mar- 
shal Erwin Rommel used this tactic to 
great advantage during the Libyan cam- 
paign (as reported in the Manchester 
Guardian of November 25, 1944). Allied 
forces used a copy of the jerrican (hastily 
produced in England) during the march 
from El Alamein and, later, during the 
liberation of France. 

Jerry. A German; anything German. 
Originally, the term was British slang for 
a German fighter pilot or his plane. 

jetty. (1) A small woman. (2) A small 

jig. A frame for holding airplane parts 
together while the airplane is being as- 

jitterbug. A jeep; a reconnaissance car. 

jitters. A nervous sensation. 

job. A woman (e.g., a "neat job," a "fast 
job," etc.). 

Joe. (1) Coffee. (2) g.i. joe. 

Joe and sidearms. Coffee, cream, and 

"Joe Blow" biography. A short bio- 
graphical article featuring a fighting 
man, written for publication in a home- 
town newspaper. 

Joe pot. A coffeepot. 

John / Johnny Raw. A recruit. 

join the bird. To become an airman. 

join the cat club. To parachute from an 
airplane in an emergency or in combat. 

joker. A wise guy; an arrogant soldier. 

JOOAA. A junior observer of meteorol- 
ogy. During the war, JOOMs were trained 
to replace weather bureau men who had 
gone to war. 

joy hop. A flight for pleasure only. 

joyride. A short flight for pleasure only; 
a student aviator's initial flight. 

180 • WAR SLANG 

J. P. Jet propulsion. 

jughead. (1) A mule. (2) A stupid 

juice. Electricity. 

juice jerker. An electrician. 

juicy. First-rate; excellent. 

jumping jeep. An autogiro with 
"jump takeoff." 

jumping-off point. (1) A place of as- 
sembly for an attack. (2) A place dis- 

jump on someone's tail. (1) To do vio- 
lence. (2) To attack from the rear in air 

jump out the window. To parachute 
from a glassed-in gun turret. 

jump pay. Extra pay given to para- 

jungleer. An infantryman specially 
trained and equipped for jungle warfare. 
In The War Dictionary (1942), by Louise 
D. Parry, a jungleer is described as "spe- 
cially garbed in lightweight camouflaged 
coveralls and hat . . . [and] . . . equipped 
with a short carbine (instead of a rifle) 
as well as a razor-edged machete. ..." 

jungle juice. Illegal moonshine liquor 
made from the dried fruits contained in 
J- or K-rations. A review of G.I. liquors of 
the Pacific theater published in the 
January 1946 issue of Esquire reported 
on jungle juice and other libations, in- 

cluding: "night fighter" — fermented sap 
of the nipa palm; "plonk" — Australian 
table wine; "tuba" — fermented sap from 
the heart of the coconut palm; and 
"kava" — from the roots of the kava tree. 

Jungle Juice — A Short Memoir 

Not to be outdone, the division sent 
down a directive giving the men Good 
Conduct Medals. When the notices were 
posted, I was overjoyed. Wouldn't my 
folks be proud of me! A Good Conduct 
Medal and promoted to Pfc all in one 
day. The colonel, however, took care of 
that situation. After lunch, a special no- 
tice appeared on the bulletin board re- 
scinding the medal of a guy named 
Kilroy. The colonel said it was for the 
illicit manufacture of alcoholic bev- 
erages. "Tain't true" no one in his right 
mind would call Jungle Juice manufac- 
tured. By accident, some corn fell into 
a gasoline drum, fermented, and I was 
fortunate enough to find it. (Said bever- 
age is known farther north as the "Aleu- 
tian Solution.") 

— Atabrine Times, by "Kilroy" 

jungle Juliet. A female member of the 
Marine Corps. 

jungle rot. Any kind of skin disease. 
Other, equivalent terms included "creep- 
ing crud" and "New Guinea crud." 

junior birdman. A recipient of the 
Air Medal. 

junior prom. A dangerous mission in 
the Army Air Corps. 

juniper. A raw recruit. 

• TV 

K * * 


A Japanese human-steered tor- 

kamikaze. A term used to describe 
Japanese "suicide" aircraft and pilots. 
The term is also applied to a defense 
strategy of suicidal resistance. In Japa- 
nese, the literal meaning is "divine 

kangaroo John. An Australian soldier. 

kay o. The commanding officer of an 
Army unit (usually, the commander of a 

keelhauling. A reprimand from a su- 
perior officer; from keelhaul (see under 
the Civil War). 

keep 'em flying. A popular slogan urg- 
ing civilians to contribute to the war ef- 
fort (thereby keeping air squadrons 

keep the field. To continue active op- 

keep the tail clear. To maneuver an 
airplane so as not to allow an enemy air- 
plane to attack from the rear. 

Kennel Ration. Hash or meat loaf; from 
the name of a popular dog food. 

khaki-whacky. A woman overly fond 
of men in uniform. 

kick. (1) A dishonorable discharge. (2) 
The recoil of a rifle. 

kick downstairs. To demote in rank. 

kick his teeth down his throat. 

do violence. 


kick in the can. (1) To kick in the pos- 
terior. (2) To confine in the guardhouse. 

kid. A bomber copilot. 

Kilroy was here. A motto that was 
written on fences, buildings, sidewalks, 
and restroom walls all over the world. It 
also became a popular civilian ex- 

Kilroy: He Was There, but 
Who Was He? 

Folklore about Kilroy grew up among 
the boys of the Air Transport Command, 
who, wherever they flew, found that Kil- 
roy had been there before them, though 
no one ever saw him. "Kilroy was here," 
"Kilroy ate here," "Kilroy slept here," 
and other items of information about 
Kilroy appeared at airfields all over the 
world. In / Hear America Talking (1976), 
Stuart Berg Flexner points out: 'This 
most popular piece of graffiti of all time 
meant 'a U.S. serviceman was here' and 
'a stranger was here.'" Imitators such as 
"Corduroy" and "Clem" also appeared, 
but they failed to attain the vogue of 

The expression even held on for a 
while after the war. After the first 
H-bomb test, scientists went in to check 
the guinea-pig battleships used in the 
test and found "Kilroy was here" freshly 
painted on one of the hulls. 

Who was he? An ad for the Associa- 
tion of the U.S. Army gave this answer: 

Some say he was a foreman in a Seattle 
munitions plant during World War II. 
Equipment shipped overseas carried his 
name on the side, showing that it had 

182 * WAR SLANG 

been inspected and approved. Others 
insist that he was an unknown infantry 
soldier who got tired of hearing the Air 
Force brag that they were always first 
on the spot. So he began to leave his 
message wherever his unit saw ac- 
tion. . . . But everyone knows that in a 
sense Kilroy is no one. No single person, 
that is. He's every soldier. 

According to Newsweek of December 
3, 1945, the real Kilroy was Sergeant 
Francis J. Kilroy, Jr. One day in 1943 — 
after the phrase was in circulation— a 
notice appeared on the bulletin board 
at Boca Raton Field, Florida: "Kilroy will 
be here next week." It had been written 
by Sergeant James Moloney as his 
friend Sergeant Kilroy lay ill with influ- 
enza. That started a campaign that 
made Kilroy the most famous man in 
the Army Air Corps. Transferred to an- 
other station, Moloney kept writing no- 
tices about Kilroy. 

However, in 1962 the Associated 
Press put an obituary on the wire for a 
James J. Kilroy of Boston, who had died 
at the age of sixty. The AP declared that 
of all the claims to having originated 
the expression, this Kilroy's was "gener- 
ally credited as the soundest." The obitu- 
ary went on to say that Kilroy had gone 
to work as an inspector at the Fore River 
Shipyard, in Quincy, Massachusetts, two 
days before Pearl Harbor and had im- 
mediately begun writing "Kilroy was 
here" on the equipment that his gang 
had checked. As the equipment was 
shipped around the world, the slogan 
caught on. The AP added that when the 
war was over the American Transit As- 
sociation held a contest to see who the 
original Kilroy was, and this Kilroy, still 
working at the shipyard, presented his 
evidence and won. His prize: a twenty- 
two-ton trolley car. 

The James Kilroy claim is further bol- 
stered by an article in Time for December 
2, 1946, in which the same James J. 
Kilroy, then of Halifax, Massachusetts, is 
quoted as saying that he first wrote "Kil- 
roy was here" on the hull of the Lexing- 
ton in a shipyard. He won a contest for 

the best explanation of how the Kilroy 
thing started. He said he had been a 
war worker at the Bethlehem Steel Com- 
pany's Quincy shipyard. His job was to 
inspect the tanks, double bottoms, and 
other aspects of warships under con- 
struction. In order to let his superiors 
know that he was doing what had been 
assigned to him, he followed the prac- 
tice of scrawling "Kilroy was here" in 
yellow crayon on the items he inspected. 
Some investigators have found so 
many conflicting claims that they have 
thrown up their hands. Stuart Berg Flex- 
ner wrote in / Hear America Talking: 

There have been dozens of stories about 
who the original Kilroy was or what 
"Kilroy" meant to its originators — so 
many stories that no one knows for sure 
who or what the original Kilroy was. 
Many graffiti writers made a drawing 
to accompany the phrase "Kilroy was 
here," showing a wide-eyed, bald- 
headed face peering over a fence which 
hid everything below his nose, except 
for his fingers, which were shown grip- 
ping the top of the fence — Kilroy was 
the mischievous outsider, staring at, and 
probably laughing at, the world. 

kite. A slow plane with a big wingspan. 

kite full of flak. An airplane hit heav- 
ily by antiaircraft fire. 

kiwi / kewie. A groundhog; a timid pi- 
lot. The kiwi is a flightless bird. 

klink. (1) A guardhouse; a ship's 
prison. See also clink, under World 
War I. 

knee pad. A pancake. 

knight of the silkworm. One who has 

jumped from an airplane in a silk para- 


K-9 Corps. Dogs used in war. The 
Army's K-9 Corps, organized during the 
war, was originally called D4D ("Dogs 
for Defense"). 

knockabout. A small dorylike boat. 

knock civvies into shape. To train or 
drill recruits. 

knock down / K.D. To take apart a 
piece of equipment, partially or entirely. 

knocker. (1) A small fulminate cap. (2) 
A faultfinder; a complainer. 

knock for a goal / knock hell out of / 
knock hell, west, and crooked / 
knock into a cocked hat / knock 
someone's block off / knock some- 
one's ears down / knock the sap out 
of / knock the spots off of. To do vio- 

knock-knock. An acoustic mine. 

knuckle buster. A crescent wrench. 

konshine. A conscientious objector. 

K.P. See kitchen police, under World 
War I. 

K-ration. A balanced ration for troops 
in the field. The K-ration was put out by 
the Army Subsistence Research Labora- 
tory, starting out as the "Parachute Ra- 
tion," or "Pararation." Some called it the 
"blitz ration" while it was under devel- 
opment. Its wide use by many different 
combat groups necessitated a more gen- 
eral name, and it was called "Ration K," 
after the leader of the team that created 
it Dr. Ancel Keys. In the late 1950s and 

early 1960s Keys was in the news as the 
author of Eat Well and Stay Well, the first 
book on the dangers of animal fat in the 
American diet. 

The K-ration came in three sealed 
boxes — breakfast, lunch, and dinner 
units. It contained over 3,000 calories 
and all the required vitamins. The inven- 
tory of foods in the ration changed sev- 
eral times during the war, but this is 
what was most often in the three pack- 
ages: in the breakfast unit — two types of 
biscuits, one meat and egg unit, a fruit 
bar, one soluble coffee unit, three sugar 
tablets, a stick of gum, four cigarettes, 
and one can key; in the dinner unit — two 
types of biscuits, one cheese unit, one 
confection unit, one lemon powder unit, 
three sugar tablets, a stick of gum, four 
cigarettes, one clip of matches, and one 
can key; in the supper unit — two types 
of biscuits, one meat product, one two- 
ounce D-ration candy bar, one bouillon 
powder unit, a stick of gum, and four 
cigarettes. The biscuits included were 
known as "defense" biscuits; they were 
made of molasses, whole wheat flour, 
and soybean flour and flavored with 

Two items in particular were widely 
disliked: malt-dextrose tablets and ersatz 
lemon powder, which in theory could be 
used to make a lemon-flavored drink, but 
the drink was so bad that it tended to be 
used for hair rinse or stove cleaner. 

kraut. A German; from "sauerkraut" 
(popularly supposed to be the staple 
food of the Germans). 

kraut-head of the krauts. Adolf Hitler. 

184 • WAR SLANG 

ladies' fever. Syphilis. 

lame and lazy list. The sick and in- 
jured list. 

lam man. A deserter (i.e., one who is 
on the lam). 

land crab / land swab. A landlubber. 

landing gear. One's legs. 

land of the rising sun. Japan; from the 
image of the sun on its flag. After Decem- 
ber 7, 1941, Japan was often called the 
"land of the setting sun." 

land shark. One who preys on sea- 
men ashore. 

latrine humor. The kind of humor 
shared among men using the latrine, or 
group toilet. To illustrate, here are two 
stanzas from "When I Begin to Clean the 
Latrine" (sung to the tune of "Begin the 
Beguine"), a song of the men serving in 
the South Pacific: 

When I begin to clean the latrine, 

I take up a mop in my hand so tender, 

I scrub all the seats till they shine in 

And polish the bowls till they have a 


Just a short year ago I was green, 

And I didn't know that the word latrine 

ever existed, 
But I found out soon enough when I 

Now I know but too well what it means. 

latrineogram / latrine rumor / latrine 
telegram. An unfounded report. 

laundry. A board that passes on the 
promotion of a flying cadet; from the fact 
that this board decides who will or will 

not WASH OUT. 

lay an egg. To drop a bomb. 

lay a smokescreen. To lie; to cheat; 
to flatter. 

lead Grape-nuts. Shrapnel. 
lead pill. A bullet. 
lead swinger. A shirker. 

leapfrog march. A march in which 
troops alternately marched for five miles 
and then rode on trucks for fifty miles or 
for an hour. 

leaping lena / leaping lizzie. A tank; 
an old jeep or other automobile. 

leatherhides. Lice. 

leave calling cards. To bomb a locale 
and then return. 

leave hound. A soldier who doesn't re- 
turn from his leave until the last minute. 

let daylight into. To shoot or stab. 

let fly at. To assault; to attack. 

Lex. The aircraft carrier Lexington, 
sunk in combat in the Coral Sea. 

liberate. To scrounge; to steal; to loot. 

liberty. A shore leave. 

liberty card. A card giving permission 
to go on shore leave. 


liberty ships. Ships of about 10,000 
gross tons built in great numbers during 
the war years. 

library. A latrine. 

lieutenant's landing. A perfect air- 
plane landing. 

life raft. A savings account; a home; a 

lift. To discharge; to get rid of. 

limejuice gob. A British sailor; from 
limey (see under World War I). 

limey-navy carrier. A British aircraft 

limp line. A line of men reporting to 
sick call. 

lip burner. A cigarette stub. 

Little America. Grosvenor Square (Lon- 
don) and the surrounding area (the site of 
apartment houses and public buildings 
occupied by U.S. troops). 

little poison. A 37-mm gun. 

little red wagon. A rolling toilet. 

live wire. An energetic person; a pas- 
sionate young woman. 

looey / looie. (1) An Army second 
lieutenant. (2) A Navy lieutenant. 

loose lips sink ships. A slogan urging 
care in talking about war-related matters, 
lest one be overheard by enemy spies. 
Other such slogans are recalled by Rob- 

ert Hendrickson in Encyclopedia of 
Word and Phrase Origins (1987): "The 
slip of a lip may sink a ship," "Slipped 
lips sink ships," and "Idle gossip sinks 
ships." Still another was, "Don't talk 
chum. Chew Topps gum." 

looseners. Prunes. 

loto. A lieutenant. 

Louie the Louse. A seaplane. 

lovebird. An airplane. 

low-hole Charlie. The wing man in a 
formation of airplanes. 

low-neck gown. A sailor's jumper or 

low on amps and voltage. Lacking 
ambition and ideas. 

loxygen. Liquid oxygen. 

lozenge. A pistol bullet. 

L.P. Leg puller (i.e., a joker). 

lullaby in lead. An attack with ma- 
chine guns. 

* * AA * • 

mac. A sailor. 

machine gat / machine rod. A ma- 
chine gun. "Gat" and "rod" were gang- 
land words for a gun. 

machine oil. Syrup. 

186 • WAR SLANG 

made. Promoted to noncommissioned 

madhouse. A control tower. 

Mae West. A life jacket worn by R.A.F. 
airmen. It was an inflatable rubber belt, 
and it saved the lives of many aviators 
who had been forced to bail out over 
water. Americans adopted the term and 
loved its cheeky (or should it be bos- 
omy?) allusion to the quintessential 
American sexpot. This information on 
the term appeared in American Speech 
of December 1944: 

Miss West sent a letter to the RAF, on 
hearing that her name had been attached 
to a life-saving jacket. The last two para- 
graphs read: "If I do get in the dictionary — 
where you say you want to put me — how 
will they describe me? As a warm clinging 
life-saving garment worn by aviators? Or 
an aviator's jacket that supplies the 
woman's touch while the boys are flying 
around nights? I've been in Who's Who and 
I know what's what, but it'll be the first 
time I ever made the dictionary." 

Maggie. A magnetic mine. 

Maggie's drawers. A red flag that in- 
dicated a clean miss on the rifle range. 

MAGIC. Military Advisory Group in 
China. This American group assisted the 
Chinese government in military matters. 

magic carpet. The warships used to 
bring servicemen back to the United 
States after the war. 

magpie. A shot that strikes the inner 
circle of a target, signaled by a flag also 
known as a "magpie." 

maiden run. (1) A first date with a 
woman. (2) A ship's first sea voyage. 

maiden trip. A ship's first sea voyage. 

main dish. A wife, sweetheart, or mis- 

make a forced landing. To slip and 
fall down. 

make a Pittsburgh sky. To spread 
smoke to cover the movements of naval 
vessels. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a 
manufacturing town full of smokestacks. 

make do. To manage to do something 
despite less than ideal circumstances. 

Make it snappy! Make it lively! Be 

make knots. To travel at high speed; 
from the fact that the Navy measures ve- 
locity in knots. 

makings. Cigarette papers and tobacco. 

mama. A girlfriend. 

mama's pets. The military police; a 
play on m.p. 

man, the. The commanding officer; the 
officer in charge; the executive officer of 
the guardhouse or brig; the officer of in- 
spection; the officer of the day. 

man-bound. Detained in port because 
of a lack of crewmen. 

Manhattan Project. The atomic bomb 
research project. Three huge plants were 


built: at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; at Pasco, 
Washington; and at Los Alamos, New 

man in brown. An officer; a soldier. 

Marauder. The Martin B-26 medium 

Marfalc. Butter; from the name of a 
brand of machine oil. 

marge. Margarine. 

Marines. Women in the Marine Corps. 
At the time, women in the military were 
usually given cute names, so this passage 
from A. Marjorie Taylor's The Language 
of World War II (1948) is notable: "The 
Marine Corps announced firmly that its 
new women's reserve would be called — 
not WAMS, not MARINETTES— but 
simply MARINES. The group was estab- 
lished February 13, 1943." 

marsh grass. Spinach. 

mash in. To push in the clutch pedal. 

maskee. Okay. 

master of the pills. A hospital steward 
or orderly. 

MAT. Military Air Transport. 

max. A complete success; the max- 

Maytag Charlie. A type of Japanese 
scout airplane. The plane's engine made 
a distinctive sound, much like that of a 
washing machine. (Maytag was, and still 

is, a well-known brand of washing ma- 

McCoy. A trustworthy person or thing; 
from "the real McCoy." 

M-Dogs. A group of Army dogs. A note 
in the August 1944 issue of American 
Notes and Queries defined this term as 
follows: "Army-trained dogs capable of 
detecting anti-personnel mines and 
booby traps laid by the enemy; called 
'the elite of the K-9 Corps.' Involving an 
ability to spot metallic and non-metallic 
objects, the temperament of the dog was 
more important than the breed." 

meat can. A tight compartment in a 
bomber (where men are packed in like 
tinned beef). 

meat hound. One who is overly fond 
of food. 

meatlegger. A person who sells meat 
in defiance of rationing restrictions; 
analogous to "bootlegger." 

meat wagon. An ambulance. 

mechanical rat. A two-way loud- 
speaker system connecting the soldiers' 
barracks with the noncommissioned of- 
ficer's room; also called an "electric 

mechanized dandruff. Fleas; lice. 

medico. A medical person. 

men behind the men behind the 
guns. The Quartermaster Corps. 

188 • WAR SLANG 

Merrill's Marauders. An Army unit 
under Brigadier General Frank D. Mer- 
rill, who called for volunteers for a "dan- 
gerous and hazardous mission," then 
welded them into a fighting group pat- 
terned after Wingate's Raiders. They 
went into action in Assam in 1944. 

metal mustang. A jeep. 

meteorskrieg. An exceptionally pow- 
erful blitzkrieg. The term was coined by 
American general Stephen O. Fuqua to 
describe the speed and power of the Ger- 
man drive in France and Belgium in the 
spring of 1940. 

Mexican strawberries. Beans. 

M.I.A. Missing in action. 

Mickey Mouse. (1) The lever that re- 
leases the bombs in an airplane. (2) A 
training film, especially one dealing 
with venereal disease. 

Mickey Mouse money. Japanese pa- 
per occupation currency in the Philip- 

Mickey Mouse rules. Petty rules, red 
tape, and regulations. In his marvelous 
book on nautical terminology, Salty 
Words (1984), Robert Hendrickson 
writes: "One theory holds that World 
War II U.S. Navy Military Indoctrination 
Centers, or M.I.C.s, where undisciplined 
sailors were restrained, gave their initials 
to this expression for petty rules." 

middle of the scow in a jam. The 

central portion of a ship during an emer- 

midget. Tiny; miniature. The term was 
used especially in describing naval ves- 
sels (for instance, "midget submarine"). 

mighty atom. A jeep. This Army tip of 
the hat to atomic power dates from 1942. 

military architecture. A handsome 

military wedding. An enforced wed- 

milk battalion. The 3rd Battalion. 

milk route. A short, easy flight. 

milk run. (1) A routine mission flown 
daily. (2) A mission completed without 
loss of either aircraft or personnel. 

milk squadron. The 3rd Squadron. 

mill. (1) A guardhouse or other place of 
confinement. (2) A motor, especially an 
aircraft engine. 

millimeter Pete. Japanese artillery. 

mine planter. A ship for sowing mines 
at sea. 

minuteman. A person engaged in sell- 
ing war bonds and stamps. The image of 
a Revolutionary War minuteman was 
used to promote their sale. 

miny. Abounding with naval mines. 

misery pipe. A bugle. 

missing link. A second lieutenant 
(seen as prehuman). 


mission. A bomber raid. 

Missouri nightingale. An Army mule. 

miss wing. A female pilot. 

Mitscher shampoo. Any of a number 
of large-scale and successful air attacks 
under the command of Vice Admiral 
Marc Andrew Mitscher. 

mitt flapper / mitt flopper. A soldier 
who does favors for his superiors; a yes- 
man; one who raises his hand (mitt) to 

M.O. Medical officer. 

moan and wail. A jail; an Army adap- 
tation of Cockney rhyming slang. 

mobile pillbox. A tank. 

moclcup. (1) A panel on which work- 
ing models of aircraft parts are flat 
mounted. They were used as teaching 
aids by the Army Air Corps. (2). A de- 
sign model of an aircraft. 

MOINC. Medical officer in command. 
See oinc. 

mole hole. A darkroom. 

mole-rat. A sapper. 

Molotov bread basket. A big con- 
tainer filled with small bombs. The bas- 
kets would be dropped by a bomber, and 
the bombs would be released on the way 
to the ground. It was named after Vya- 
cheslav Molotov, a Soviet diplomat and 
minister for foreign affairs, as is the 
next entry. 

Molotov cocktail. A glass bottle of 
gasoline tied to a flaming rag and 
thrown. The improvised incendiary 
weapon was first used against tanks but 
found many other applications. Properly 
done, the burning gas heats the tank and 
drives the crew out of the tank to be shot 
or captured. 

Mono. An air-raid signal; from its 
moaning sound. 

Mono and Clara. Air-raid and all- 
clear signals. "Clara" is echoic of "clear." 

M-l thumb. An injured thumb. Many 
recruits would get a mangled, black-and- 
blue thumb while learning to deal with 
the bolt of the M-l rifle. 

monkey. (1) A fellow; a company 
clerk. (2) A Japanese. 

monkey island. (1) The exposed top 
side of a ship's wheelhouse. (2) Japan. 

monkey meat. (1) Canned beef. (2) A 
dead Japanese. 

monkey suit. (1) An aviator's coverall. 
(2) A formal military uniform. 

month and a month. A sentence of 
one month in the guardhouse and a fine 
of one month's pay. 

mooch. To borrow (with no intention 
of repaying). 

moo juice. Milk. 

moonlight requisition. Illegal requisi- 
tion, unauthorized trade, or downright 
thievery of supplies. Here is a passage 

190 • WAR SLANG 

by Quentin Reynolds, from an article in 
Collier's of October 23, 1943: 

Officers watched them carefully. They 
had to, lest the men from one outfit grab 
supplies assigned to another outfit. Our 
Army is great for that. They will steal a 
battleship if they can get away with it. At 
night, every jeep driver cannibalizes his 
car, removes the magneto. Otherwise, his 
jeep would be gone. Our boys don't call it 
stealing. They call it "moonlight requisi- 

moo oil. (1) Butter. (2) Insincere talk. 

moosh. A guardhouse. 

mop up. (1) To clear a position of de- 
bris and wounded. (2) To clear ground 
of remaining enemy combatants after an 
attack. (3) To win a large sum of money 
at gambling. 

morning headache. A bugle call. 

Morse music. The noise created by op- 
erating a telegraph instrument. 

mosquito. (1) A British fighter-bomber 
plane. It was a plywood airplane that 
British enthusiasts called the world's 
fastest aircraft. (2) A torpedo boat. 

mosquito craft. Torpedo boats; small 

mosquito navy. A fleet of small war- 
ships; a fleet of small torpedo boats; a 
group of PT boats. 

mother-in-law of the Navy. Pensa- 
cola, Florida (home of a gigantic naval 
air station). 

Mother McCrea. A sob story; from the 
traditional Irish song of the same name. 

Mother's Day. Payday. 

motorized dandruff / motorized freck- 
les. Insects and other bugs. 

motor pool. A collection of motor vehi- 
cles; a garage. 

Mount Plasma. Mount Suribachi, on 
Iwo Jima. Newsweek described it in its 
issue of March 5, 1945: "The Japanese 
had set more than 115 guns in the vol- 
cano. The Mount was taken February 23, 
1945. The campaign on Iwo was one of 
the toughest in Marine history." 

mousetrap. A submarine (because of 
its confining atmosphere). 

move in on. To attack; to court another 
soldier's sweetheart; to take possession 
of by trickery. 

mowing machine. A machine gun. 

M.P. Military police. 

Mr. Dowilly. An air cadet. 

Mr. Foo. See foo. 

muck. Muscle. 

mud. (1) Coffee. (2) Chocolate pudding. 
(3) Unclear telegraphic signals. 

mud crusher. An infantryman. 

mud eater. An infantryman. 


mud on a shingle. Creamed beef on 
toast; mostly used as a sanitized version 


mugwump. Opossum meat. It was eaten 
by the Japanese and by the natives on 

Mulligan battery. A rolling kitchen 
(where one could get Mulligan stew). 

mustang. (1) Any Navy officer who en- 
tered the service through the merchant 
marine instead of graduating from the 
Naval Academy. (2) After the war, an of- 
ficer in any service who had risen from 
the ranks. 

mustang of metal. A reconnaissance 
car; a jeep. 

mustard. A smart pilot. 

muster a bean for a shag. To borrow 
a dollar to be used in purchasing tickets 
to a dance. 

mystery. Hash. 

mystery ship on the blue. A ship in 
convoy during time of war (because its 
position is kept secret). 

naviation. Naval aviation. 

nawator. A naval aviator. 

Nazidom. The political and philosophi- 
cal system of the Nazis; Germany. 

Naziest. Anything relating to the Nazi 

Nazify. To introduce the political and 
philosophical doctrine of the Nazis into 
the national life of another country. 

Nazi tin fish. A German submarine. 

N.C.O. Noncommissioned officer. 

N.C.O.I.C.O.Q. Noncommissioned of- 
ficer in charge of quarters. 

needful, the. Money. 

Neptune aspirin. A depth bomb. 

nervous boot with a heel. A recruit 
(boot) who tries to impress others with 
his knowledge of naval affairs. 

netted. Tuned on the same frequency 
(said of a radio sender and receiver). 

never lose outfit. The U.S. armed 
forces; so-called because the U.S. had 
never lost a war. 

New Guinea crud. See jungle rot. 

new wheeze / new wrinkle. A new 

device or tactic. 

N.G. (1) National Guard. (2) No good. 

Niagara onion / Niagara pineapple. 

A tear-gas bomb. 

nickels. Leaflets dropped over enemy 

192 • WAR SLANG 

night bomber. A pilot who sleeps in 
the daytime and visits nightclubs at 

nighthawk. (1) A guard on night patrol. 
(2) A PT boat. 

night maneuver. A date; a WAC term. 

ninety-day wonder. An officer who 
received a commission after a three- 
month course at an officers' candidate 
school. The term was popular among 
graduates of West Point and Annapolis, 
who spent four years earning their com- 

Nip. Japan; short for "Nippon." Racist 
by today's standards, this term was used 
routinely in broadcasts, news dispatches, 
and conversation during the war, as was 
the term "Jap." 

Nippo box kite. A Japanese combat air- 

N.L.D. Not in line of duty. 

N.O.B. Naval operating base. 

noncom. A noncommissioned officer. 

North Dakota rice. Hot cereal. 

nose dive. (1) Intoxication. (2) A tem- 
peramental tailspin. 

number 14 roller skate. A jeep. The 

vehicle was described by an Army wit 
as: "A number 14 roller-skate, equipped 
with motor, mud-guards, windshield 
and a place to seat 'two heels' instead 
of one." 

number-one man. A machine gunner. 

number ones. One's best uniform. 

"Nuts!" Brigadier General Anthony C. 
McAuliffe's response to a German de- 
mand for surrender during the siege of 
Bastogne. The reply was given on De- 
cember 22, 1944, before the siege was 
broken. McAuliffe was commander of 
the 101st Airborne Division and was 
known as "Old Crock" to his troops. Rob- 
ert Hendrickson wrote in Encyclopedia 
of Word and Phrase Origins (1987): 
"There are those who believe that McAu- 
liffe, a tough airborne officer, after all, 
said something much stronger — Shit! to 
be exact — but no proof has been offered. 
In any case, he meant 'Go to hell!' and 
Nuts! has become immortal." 

N.W.-N.W. No work — no woo. The slo- 
gan was adopted by women war workers 
at the Albina shipyards in Portland, Ore- 
gon. It was explained in the January 1944 
issue of Reader's Digest: "They agreed 
not to date men who were absent from 

nylon. A synthetic fiber. Robert Hen- 
drickson wrote about this product in En- 
cyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins 
(1987): "Though it was first mass pro- 
duced during World War II and hurt our 
enemy Japan's silk industry, nylon is not 
an acronym of 'Now You Lousy Nips,' as 
the old story goes. Formerly a trademark, 
nylon is an arbitrary name with no 
meaning, though the symbols NY in its 
chemical formula may have suggested 
the word." 


• it 

* • 

O.A.O. One-and-only (as in "one-and- 
only girl"). 

O.C. Officer in charge. 

ocean bullets. Beans. 

ocean greyhound. A destroyer. 

o'clock. A term used, largely by fliers, 
to indicate direction. Thus, "twelve 
o'clock" means straight ahead; "three 
o'clock," directly to the right; and so on. 
This crude but very effective system is 
still in use. In actual use, it is often heard 
as "o' — fuckin' — clock." 

O.D. (1) Officer of the day. (2) Olive 
drab (shirt, pants, or uniform). 

off duty. Free from responsibility. 
office. The cockpit of an airplane. 

officers' line. A row of houses oc- 
cupied by officers and their families. 

off the beam. Incorrect; from naviga- 
tion by radio beam. 

of the old school. (1) Said of officers 
who served in World War I. (2) That 
which is old-fashioned or traditional. 

O.G. Officer of the guard. 

"Oh, So Social." Nickname given to 
the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services) 
by those who saw it as a harbor for high- 
born Ivy Leaguers. 

oil slick. (1) Clever; talkative. (2) A 
streak left by a submarine's exhaust on 
the surface of the water. 

oil tanker. (1) A large woman. (2) A 
prostitute with a venereal disease. 

OINC. Officer in command. The acro- 
nym was meant to be built-on — e.g., 
MOINC (medical officer in command) 
and SOINC (supply officer in command). 

Okies. Okinawans. The term was used 
stateside for people from Oklahoma. 

old fogy pay. Extra pay for additional 
service after four years in the armed 

Old Glory. The American flag. 

old guard. Mess-hall syrup. 

old issue / old file / old settled. An 

old soldier. 

old Joe. Syphilis. 

old lady of the Pacific Fleet. The air- 
craft carrier Enterprise. 

old man. A company or regimental com- 
mander (sometimes, any commander). 

Old Man, The. Major General George 
S. Patton. 

old shell. An old sailor. 

one-star wonder. A second lieutenant. 

one-wheel landing. (1) Intoxicated. 
(2) An airplane landing on one wheel. 

194 * WAR SLANG 

only apple in the orchard / only 
oyster in the stew / only pebble on 
the beach. A self-important person. 

on the beach. Without funds. 

on the beam. Correct; alert. 

on the blink. Defective; not working. 

on the carpet. Called before the com- 
manding officer for disciplinary action. 

on the deck. At minimum altitude in 
an airplane. 

oof. Money. 

openers. Cathartic pills. 

open out. To increase the distance be- 
tween airplanes in formation flying. 

orchid hunt. A furlough. 

orderly room. Company headquarters. 

'orsetralian. An Australian (mimicking 
the Cockney pronunciation). 

os car. A submarine. 

oscar hocks. Socks (in rhyming slang). 

ossifer. An officer. 

otter. A device used for cutting mine an- 
chor cables. The mines then rise to the 
surface, where they can be swept up. The 
device is equipped with powerful, saw- 
like jaws and is towed at a distance by 
a minesweeper. It is also called a 

out for blood. Determined to take re- 
venge or to retaliate. 

out of uniform. Not wearing the 
proper uniform. 

outside. Civilian life. 

out-touch. To treat another more 
roughly than one is treated. 

overboard. (1) Out of a ship and in the 
water. (2) Without funds. (3) Jilted by 
one's sweetheart. 

overcoat. A parachute. 

Overlord. Code name for operational 
plans to attack the Axis fortress in Eu- 
rope — the Normandy invasion. This 
name replaced the earlier code name 

overshoot. To overestimate. 

over the bump. Retired after thirty 
years of active duty. 

over the hump. The air route over the 
Himalayas from India to China. At the 
war's end, supplies were being flown 
over this route at a rate of two tons a 

owl. A military guard or picket. 

ozzieland. Australia; a play on "Aus- 


• * P -Cr • 

pacifico. A peaceful person; a pacifist. 

padre. A chaplain; from the Spanish 
word for "father" or "priest." 

paint a wet anchor. To do unneces- 
sary work. 

pal. (1) A chum; a partner. (2) To chum; 
to make friends. 

pancake. To level off a plane near the 
ground before landing. 

pancake and light. Land, refuel, and 
rearm (in radar code). 

pan rattler. A cook; a talkative person. 

pants leg. A wind indicator; because 
of its shape. 

panzer division. A German armored 
division; a German tank division. In Ger- 
man, panzer means "armored." 

paramarine. A Marine parachutist. 

parapooch. A dog dropped by para- 
chute for military purposes. 

para saboteur. A parachutist equipped 
to perform acts of sabotage. 

paraskier. A soldier trained as a para- 
chutist and a ski trooper. 

paratrooper. An Army parachute sol- 
dier. In a letter dated May 16, 1942, to 
the editors of Collier's David W. Maurer 

states: "I seem to have a memory of this 
term (paratrooper) being used by the 
British or perhaps United States corre- 
spondents before 1941, in the first news 
stories that came out regarding the use 
of parachute troops." 

paring knife. A bayonet. 

part teeth. To shoot with extreme ac- 

pathfinders. Specially picked air 
crews who locate a target and drop in- 
cendiaries, lighting the way for the main 
attacking force. 

Paul Pry. A giant searchlight. 

payday for Sam. The day when debts 
are discharged; the day when payment is 
to be made. 

pay hop. A flight made so that one can 
qualify for flight pay. 

p-a-y number. A mocking cry. It is de- 
fined in Fighting Talk (1942), by Francis 
Raymond Meyer: "What the lads cry 
when a mess attendant or a sailor on 
mess duty breaks a dish or cup. (The ex- 
pression derives from the practice of 
charging broken dishes against the 
sailor's pay if breakage is caused by care- 

PCAU (pronounced "pee-cow"). Phil- 
ippine Civil Affairs Unit. After Manila 
was freed from Japanese dominance, it 
was the Army's PCAU that kept the city 
alive, serving hundreds of thousands of 
meals and making sure drinking water 
was available. 

196 • WAR SLANG 

P.C.S. Previous condition of servitude. 

peanut. The Bruster Buffalo fighter 
plane (because of its short, stubby 

pearl diver. A dishwasher. 

Pearl Harbor. A treacherous, devastat- 
ing attack (after the Japanese attack of 
December 7, 1941). 

peashooter. A pursuit pilot; a pursuit 

pecker checker. A medical person 
who checks for evidence of venereal 

pecker parade. See short-arm in- 

peel off. (1) To curve away from an- 
other aircraft. The movement is sup- 
posed to resemble the act of peeling off 
the skin of a banana. (2) To dive out from 
the bottom of an echelon formation. 

peep. A small car; used when the word 
jeep is applied to larger vehicles. 

peewee Matilda. A small tank. 

pencil pusher. A navigator on an air- 

pencil pusher / pencil shover. A 

pending a CM. Awaiting a court- 

penguin. A nonflying member of the 
Army Air Corps; from the flightless bird. 

Pentagon pip. An imaginary illness. It 
is described in the July 1945 issue of 
American Notes and Queries: "An af- 
fliction common among Army officers 
and enlisted men stationed in Washing- 
ton; brought on by an Army order 
proposing overseas duty for men whose 
war work has kept them heretofore in the 
United States." 

pep tire. A doughnut; so-called by 
American Red Cross workers in England 
and other places where they served G.I.'s. 

Peter-boat on the prowl. A PT boat 
on patrol. 

petty officer. A Navy enlisted man 
with a rank corresponding to that of a 
noncommissioned officer in the Army. 

Philip. A Filipino male. 

photo Joe. A pilot of a single-seat 
photoreconnaissance airplane. 

P.I. (1) Philippine Islands. (2) Post in- 

pick-and-shovel boy. An engineer. 

pick 'em up and lay 'em down. To 


pickle barrel. A bombardier training 

pickle lugger. A torpedo-carrying na- 
val aircraft. 

pickup. (1) A light truck for trans- 
porting goods. (2) A casual acquaintance 
that one takes home. 


pick up 

the road. 

one's brass. To get out of 

Pidgin. A simplified mixture of English 
with any of a number of indigenous 
tongues of the South Pacific. It was used 
in communicating with the native popu- 

Basic Pidgin 

Survival manuals issued during the war 
contained glossaries of pidgin English 
for use in the South Pacific. One does 
not survive after being shot down over 
the Bismarck Archipelago by asking, "Is 
the water good to drink?" but must 
know enough to ask, "Good fella 
water?" A manual published by the 
Army Air Corps during the war, entitled 
Jungle, Desert and Arctic Emergencies, 
contained this advice and basic 

Learning to speak Pidgin consists in 
memorizing a small vocabulary of na- 
tive words and becoming accustomed to 
the peculiar way of putting together the 
native and English words. Two or three 
weeks of practice . . . will normally suf- 
fice to gain a working knowledge of Pid- 
gin. The glossary on the following pages 
is short but should give you a basis of 
communicating with natives, if they 
don't understand English. 




Balus ("a" as in 


Landing ground 

Place balus 

Shore, coast, or 

Nambis (or 




Kai kai (rhymes 

with "sky") 




Sola water 

Path or track 


House, hut, or 





Stream, creek, or 




Place kanaka 

Village headman 

Luluai (rhymes 

with "sky") 

White man 

Master (or 



Japan or 

Jap-pan (or 


Yap- pan) 

To hide, secret 

Kali fai (rhymes 

with "sky") 

To injure, wound 


To kill 

Killim e die 

Paper money 

Kunda money 


Lamp walkabout 


Shoot lamp 

To leave,- to 


forget; past, 


Native woman. 




What name? 

To work; to make 


Bring me food 

Bring em kai kai 

Bring me water 

Bring em water 

1 want sleep 

Me like sleep 

Where is the (or 

Where stop road? 

a) path? 

Guide me to the 

One fellow boy 


brings em me 

long nambis 

Guide me to a 

Bring em me long 


place kanaka 

Tell the chief to 

Luluai e come 


Are Japanese in 

E got Jap-pan e 

the district? 


How long ago did 

Long what name 

the Japanese 

time Jap-pan e 

leave here? 

los em harpir? 

Where is a path 

Where stop road 

to avoid the 

being sackin 



How many days 

How muss day e 



A long distance 

Long way 

(20 miles or 


198 • WAR SLANG 



A moderate 

Long way lik lik 


(usually 3 or 4 


You will be well 

Bye'm bye all e 

rewarded later 

givim you good 

fellow pay 

Do you 

You savvy finish? 

understand me 


Is the water good 

Good fella 

to drink? 


Where does the 

Road e go where? 

track go? 

Did you see the 

You lookim balus 

plane crash? 

e fall down? 

Where is the 

Balue e stop 



Take me to the 

Bring im me 


along balus 

"Long" (from "along" and "belong") 

is a general prepos 

tion meaning "to," 

"at," "by," "with," and "for." Few of the 

natives are reliable 

in the use of 

numerals above "twelve." 

pig. A torpedo plane. 

pigboat. A submarine. The term was 
resented by those who served on them. 

piggyback. A large plane that carries a 
smaller one. 

pig snout. A gas mask. 

pig's vest with buttons. Fat salt pork. 

pill peddler / pill pusher / pill roller / 
pill shooter. A doctor; a member of the 
medical corps. 

pilots' ready room. A room on land or 
aboard an aircraft carrier where pilots 
and other members of the air service 
await calls to take to the air. 

pineapple. A hand grenade (because of 
its pineapplelike surface). 

ping. A radar echo. 

pinpoint. To locate the position of an 
aircraft or a target with great accuracy; 
to bomb with precision. 

pinup. A picture of a woman for a sol- 
dier to pin up on the wall of his quarters. 
According to an editorial in Newsweek 
of July 16, 1945, pinups were not new 
with this war: "The demand for decora- 
tive damsels existed among the troops of 
Spanish-American war times and it in- 
creased considerably when the Yanks 
started 'over there' in 1917. But the GI's 
of today have boomed pin-ups into big 
business, with one firm alone having 
sold more than 60,000,000 pictures since 
Pearl Harbor." 

In The Language of World War II 
(1948), A. Marjorie Taylor writes about 
the term: 

But even though the idea is an old one, 
the term pin-up (or pinup, as it is some- 
times written) seems to have first come into 
general usage in this war. Pin-up girls were 
mentioned on the back cover of Yank (the 
Army weekly) March 12, 1943, and later 
issues published pictures of photogenic 
Hollywood stars and models for GI use as 
pin-ups. At the outset of the war Walter 
Thornton, recalling the enthusiasm of sol- 
diers in World War I for pinning up photo- 
graphs, offered General Powell (of Fort Dix) 
some 5000 photographs from his files. Gen- 
eral Powell's letter of acceptance was the 
beginning of the Thornton Pin-ups, which 
soon became a familiar sight in all parts of 
the world. The Thornton pictures typified 
the wholesome girl-back-home type, rather 
than the glamorous show-girl type. Ac- 
cording to a survey made by editors and 
photographers of Life magazine in 1941, 
Dorothy Lamour outnumbered all others as 


the soldiers' favorite pin-up girl. This men- 
tion of "pin-up" is the earliest noted in 
print in Life, July 7, 1941. 

pipeline time. The elapsed time be- 
tween a requisition's leaving a depot and 
the arrival of the requested supplies; also 
called "turnaround time." 

piperoo. That which is excellent. 

pipped. Wounded. 

pipsqueak. Airborne radio transmitter 
with pip and squeak sounds used to 
identify friendly from enemy aircraft. 
Compare to WWI meaning of this term. 

piss cutter. A soft overseas cap. 

pits, the. The worst; a bad place or situ- 

The Original Pits of "The Pits" 

Elbridge Colby defines "the pits" in Army 
Talk: A Familiar Dictionary of Soldier 
Speech (1943): 

The protected place behind the parapet 
or embankment at the target end of a 
rifle range, where men manipulate and 
mark the targets during practice shoot- 
ing. Usually there are no pits there at 
all, merely an open place between the 
embankment and the hillside backstop 
for the bullets passing over. The phrase, 
however, is old and comes from days 
when there actually were pits. It has re- 
mained in the living speech of the sol- 
dier folk long after its accuracy has 
passed. The army man says: "at the 
butts," "in the pits," "take this detail 
down to the pit," and "you are on pit 

plain butch. An officer in the medical 
corps. The "butch" here stands for 

plane pusher. (1) A pilot. (2) One who 
wheels an airplane out onto the deck of 
an aircraft carrier. 

platters of meat. Feet. 

play soldier. To shirk duty. 

plow into. To begin; to attack. 

plow the deep. To sleep. 

plucking board. (1) A board in charge 
of the retirement of officers. (2) A board 
that removes the worst examples. 

pocket lettuce. Paper money. 

P.O.E. Port of embarkation. 

pogey. A hospital; from the hobo term 
for a poorhouse. 

pogie bait. Candy. 

pogled. Dazed; confused. It was de- 
fined in the November 1943 issue of 
American Notes and Queries: "Word 
used by British and American soldiers to 
describe the condition of Germans taken 
prisoner in the Salerno region, meaning 
'slap-happy in its most acute and super- 
lative degree.'" 

pogue. Sissy in the Marines. Jerimiah 
O'Leary wrote on the term in the Wash- 
ington Times, February 18, 1993: 

"I first heard the word in May 1942, 
when I was going through "boot camp" at 
Parris Island, S.C., and whole platoons of 

200 • WAR SLANG 

us recruits were denounced as "pogues" by 
drill instructors in the sense that we were 
a bunch of sissies, unfit to wear the globe- 

pointie-talkie. A phrasebook. Ac- 
cording to Word Study of May 1946, it 
was: "A linguistic manual issued during 
the war, mainly for the use of airmen 
grounded in strange territory. If they met 
natives, they could point to certain 
phrases in the book in the native's lan- 
guage and thus give out information or 
ask questions. It worked satisfactorily 
when the natives could read!" 

P.O.L. Petroleum, oil, and lubricants. 

police. (1) To clean up. (2) The soldiers 
detailed to cleaning up. 

polish the outfit. To make clean or 

POM. "Preparation for Overseas Move- 
ment," a War Department publication 
that was a guide to the prompt and sys- 
tematic preparation and movement of 
units to overseas destinations. 

pom-pom. An automatic machine can- 
non that fires one-pound shells from a 
looped belt; from the drumming sound 
of its fast fire. The first weapon to be 
called the pom-pom was the Swedish 
Bofors 40-mm gun. 

poodle palace. A commanding offi- 
cer's fancy headquarters. 

pool. The officers and enlisted men 
available for assignment; also called "re- 
placement pool." More generally, a pool 
is any reserve of military personnel, ci- 
vilian personnel, or equipment (e.g., a 
motor pool). 

poontang / poon. Sexual intercourse. 

poop sheet. A drill schedule; any writ- 
ten announcement. "Poop" refers to in- 
formation, not excrement. 

pop it out. To expand one's chest to 
the limit. 

popsicle. A motorcycle. 

porthole. One's anus; from the name 
for an opening in the side of a ship. 

pot / pot hat. A steel helmet. 

potato masher. A type of German gre- 
nade; from its shape. 

pound brass. To transmit telegraph 
signals using a brass hand key. 

pour on the soup. To give gas to an 
aircraft engine by opening the throttle. 

pour the heat. To shell; to bombard. 
P.O.W. Prisoner of war. 

powder birds of war. Army Air 
Corps cadets. 

powder monkey. A girlfriend of an ar- 

powder puff. A woman flier. 

power stall. A power-on approach to a 
landing in which the airplane is allowed 
to settle slowly at an air speed just above 
the stalling point. 

p-rade. A dress parade. 


prairie dog snarl. Mine cables 
twisted together. 

praise the Lord and pass the ammu- 
nition. A popular motto during the war. 
A. Marjorie Taylor reports on it in The 
Language of World War II (1948): "First 
attributed to Chaplain William Maguire 
(and so quoted in Life, November 2, 
1942), but he is reported as claiming that 
he didn't remember saying it and 'posi- 
tively didn't man a gun' at Pearl Harbor. 
Real author of the phrase seems to have 
been Naval Lieutenant Howell Forgy, 
Presbyterian chaplain." The phrase is 
also the title of a popular song, with 
words and music by Frank Loesser, 
which came out in September 1942. 

prang. (1) To bomb a place, especially 
to bomb it heavily (originally R.A.F. 
slang). The term may be a blend of 
"paste" and "bang." (2) To smash up. (3) 
A crash. 

pretty perch. A well-executed air- 
plane landing. 

prick a chart. To trace a ship's course 
on a chart with pins or tacks. 

priority. Importance. For example, war 
plants engaged in vital production were 
given top priority (or first chance) to get 
scarce materials. 

P.R.O. Public relations officer. 

proof house. A place where gun bar- 
rels are tested. 

prop. A propeller. 

prop wash. (1) Gossip; from the non- 
slang meaning of a wind stream from a 
propeller. (2) An expression of disbelief. 

P.S. man. One with previous military 
experience; one with a previous term of 

P.T. A patrol torpedo boat. 

P-38. A soldier over the age of thirty- 
eight; a play on the name of the P-38 air- 

puddle jumper. (1) An observation 
plane designed for short flights, some- 
times with bazookas on its wings. (2) A 


pull rank. To use one's superior rank 

pull-through. An oiled rag on a cord 
used in cleaning the bore of a rifle. 

pulpit. The cockpit of an airplane. 

pumpkin rinds. Military shoulder 

pump ship. To urinate. 

pungyo. A comrade or buddy; from a 
Chinese term. 

punk and plaster. Bread and butter. 

Purple Heart. A medal, created in 1932 
and containing the words "For Military 
Merit." Early in the war it became the 
medal given to soldiers who were 
wounded and was awarded posthu- 
mously to those killed. According to El- 
bridge Colby in Army Talk: A Familiar 

202 * WAR SLANG 

Dictionary of Soldier Speech (1943), it 
was inspired by an order issued by Gen- 
eral George Washington at Newburgh, 
New York, on August 7, 1782, pre- 
scribing that the figure of a heart in pur- 
ple cloth be worn over the left breast by 
soldiers who performed "any singularly 
meritorious action . . . not only instances 
of unusual gallantry but also for extraor- 
dinary fidelity and essential service in 
any way." 

purple heart corner. The position of 
the outside plane in the lowest flying ele- 
ment of a bomber formation; also known 
as the "coffin corner." The term is ex- 
plained by Norman Longmate in the 
book The G.I.'s: The Americans in Brit- 
ain, 1942-1945 (1976), when he points 
out that the position was "the favorite 
target for enemy fighters, and hence the 
likeliest place to earn a Purple Heart for 
being wounded in action." 

pushbutton pilot. A pilot who was 
trained in an airplane relatively easy to 

pusher. An airplane having the propel- 
ler behind the main wings. 

Eush someone's nose so far through 
is face he'll smell coming and go- 
ing. To do violence. 

push up the daisies. To be dead and 

puss blanket. A gas mask (i.e., a blan- 
ket for the face [puss]). 

put that in your mess kit. Think it 

put the bug on. (1) To turn on a light; 
to flash a flashlight. (2) To make a self- 
inflicted sore on one's body in order to 
shirk duty. 

P.X. Post exchange. 

* • 

Q company. (1) An awkward squad. (2) 
A recruit receiving center. 

quad. (1) A drill ground, or quadrangle. 
(2) A four-wheel-drive truck. 

quail on toast. Creamed beef on toast. 

Quaker. A dummy cannon used to de- 
ceive the enemy; a dummy gun used for 
drilling recruits; allusions to the paci- 
fism of Quakers. See also Quaker gun, 
under the Civil War. 

Quakers were traditionally placed in 
the portholes of ships or in the gun holes 
of forts. Correspondent Philip Chaplin of 
Canada reported: "In 1941, at least two 
Canadian corvettes went overseas with 
quakers mounted on their bandstands 
because the production of 4" guns had 
not gotten underway in Canada." 

George Washington used dummy can 
non (painted logs) on Dorchester Heights, 
frightening the Redcoats into evacuating 
Boston, on March 17, 1776. 

Quaker ballet. A blessing or prayer. 

quartermaster gait. A step longer 
than the regulation thirty-inch pace. 


• 203 

queen of the flattops. The aircraft car- 
rier Lexington, sunk by the Japanese in 
the Coral Sea. 

quick thinker. A pursuit pilot. 

quill. To report for a delinquency. 

quinine Jimmy. A medical officer; 
from the name of the substance used to 
treat malaria. 

quirk. A student pilot. 

quisle. To act as a traitor; from quisling. 

quisling. A traitor. 

Quisling: The Man and the 

This version of the story behind the word 
"quisling" is from Words of the Fighting 
Forces, written while the man still had 
power in Norway: 

The original Quisling is Major Vidkun 
Quisling of Norway, who made his 
name a synonym for "traitor" by con- 
spiring with the Germans to assist them 
in the seizure of Norway and, when 
they invaded his country, announcing 
himself as Premier. He is now "sole 
political leader" of Norway, while the 
German Governor General is Josef Ter- 
boven. According to the London Times, 
"Major Quisling has added a new word 
to the English language. ... To writers, 
the word Quisling is a gift from the 
Gods. If they had been ordered to invent 
a new word for traitor . . . they could 
have hardly hit upon a more brilliant 
combination of letters. Actually, it con- 
trives to suggest something at once slip- 
pery and tortuous. Visually, it has the 
supreme merit of beginning with a 'Q,' 
which . . . has long seemed to the British 

mind to be a crooked, uncertain and 
slightly disreputable letter, suggestive 
of the questionable, the querulous, the 
quavering of quaking quagmires and 
quivering quicksands, of quibbles and 
quarrels, of queasiness, quackery, 
qualms and quilp. . . . Major Quisling is 
to be congratulated. He has performed 
the rarish feat of turning a proper name 
into a common one." Now the name is 
even declined as a verb: "I quisle, you 
quisle, he quisles, etc." Before the out- 
break of the war, Quisling was the head 
of the Nasjonal Samling, a political 
party he founded in 1933 to advocate 
the suppression of "revolutionary" par- 
ties and the "freeing" of labor from 
union domination. The party had never 
succeeded in electing a single member 
to the Norwegian Parliament. 

quonset hut. A shelter used for many 
different purposes. This report on the 
term is from an article in The New Yorker 
of March 16, 1946: 

Developed by the Navy at Quonset Point, 
Rhode Island, and used as barracks, ga- 
rages, schools, machine shops, apartments 
and many other things. In shape they re- 
semble a long cylinder, cut in half length- 
wise, with the flat side on the ground. The 
Navy began investigation of prefabricated 
housing in 1941 and by June of that year, 
huts were being sent to England under 
lend-lease. By the end of 1942, having 
made more than 34,000 huts, the Navy 
handed the job to the Stran-Steel Division 
of the Great Lakes Steel Corporation. The 
huts come in different sizes — 20' x48' and 
40' x 100' being the most usual. Several 
can be joined together. The greatest single 
collection of "40"s was a warehouse on 
Guam. It covered 54,000 square feet and 
was nicknamed the Multiple Mae West. 

204 • WAR SLANG 

• it R a • 

radar. Radio detection and ranging. Ac- 
cording to Time of August 20, 1945, 
quoting the Navy, the man who coined 
the word "radar" was Commander (later 
Captain) S. M. Tucker. In The Language 
of World War II (1948), A. Marjorie Tay- 
lor reported: "The word Radar was kept 
under close military secrecy for some 
time but news of it was released to the 
public by the United States War and 
Navy Departments in the spring of 

ragpicker. A member of the Field Sal- 
vage Corps. 

railroad tracks. A captain's insignia of 
parallel silver bars. 

rainmaker. (1) A heavy artillery gun. 
(2) A meteorologist. 

rainmakers. The drum and bugle 

raise the wind. To brag. 

rake. To fire along the length of a target. 

ramble handle. The throttle of an air- 

Ranger. A commando; from Rogers' 
Rangers, of the Revolutionary War. 

ranger gang. Personnel of the aircraft 
carrier Ranger. 

ranked out. To be superseded or com- 
pelled by a superior (e.g., forced to va- 
cate quarters). 

rap it back. To pull in one's chin. 

rate a leather medal. To be mean or 
contemptible, hence deserving a boot in 
the rear. 

rations spoiler. A cook. 

rat race. (1) A type of aerial maneuver. 
It is defined in Dive Bomber (1939), by 
Robert A. Winston: "Tail-chasing. Open 
order squadron maneuvers, usually 
through air made turbulent by the slip 
streams of planes ahead." (2) A 
mounted review. 

rattle-and-tat. A machine gun. 

ratzy. A German; a blend of "rat" and 

raunchy. According to The Slanguage 
Dictionary of Modern American Slang, 
"a name applied to anything that is in 
bad shape or dirty." In the Army Air 
Corps it simply meant "sloppy." 

raw recruit. A newly enlisted soldier. 

real stuff, the/real thing, the. Any- 
thing genuine; anything excellent. 

rear line. The troops in the rear of an 

rear of snoose. A pinch of snuff. 

red ball express / red ball high- 
way. An Army unit created to carry 
high-priority freight to the front. First or- 
ganized in World War I after the break- 
through at St. Lo, the truck convoys 
made their reputation by keeping pace 
with General Patton's advance. The term 


"red ball" derives from an old American 
railroading system of marking priority 
cars with a large red dot. 

red ink. Red wine; catsup. 

red lead / red paint. Catsup. 

redneck. A drunkard; a rustic. 

redski. A Russian; a Red (i.e., a com- 

red triangle. The emblem of the Young 
Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.), 
which, along with the Red Cross, was an 
important factor in the life of the ser- 

reefer cargo. Perishable foods. The 
word "reefer" refers to refrigeration 

refloat a fish. To float a submarine un- 
able to surface under its own power. 

reg'lar. Regular; first-rate; excellent; a 
regular soldier. 

regular Army / regulars, the. The 

standing Army. 

repple depple. A replacement depot. 

retread. A veteran of World War I 
fighting in World War II. 

re-up. To reenlist. 

revival tent. A tent like those used in 
revival meetings. According to The Slan- 
guage Dictionary of Modern American 
Slang (1942), they were: "Tents provid- 
ing bath facilities, new clothing, etc., lo- 

cated near the front lines for the use of 
men temporarily relieved from battle 
duty for this rehabilitation." 

rhino tank. Four pieces of angle iron 
sharpened at one end and welded to a 
steel plate at the other, and attached to 
the front of a tank, making it resemble a 
rhinoceros. Invented by Sergeant Curtis 
G. Culin, of Cranford, New Jersey, rhino 
tanks were used in the Normandy cam- 
paign to break through hedgerows. 

R.H.I. P. Rank has its privileges. 

rhubarb pilot. A pilot who flies low 
(i.e., he returns to base with pieces of 
rhubarb stuck to his airplane). 

ribbon happy. Dazzled by one's own 
decorations (said of an airman). 

ricco. A ricochet bullet. 

rice belly / rice cracker. A Japanese. 

ride the beam. To keep eyes front. 

ride the sick book / ride the sick 
list. To feign illness to get out of work. 

rigger. One who packs, or rigs, para- 

rigging. One's clothes and other per- 
sonal belongings. 

rig in one's booms. To pull in one's 

ringtail. A Japanese. 

rinkeydink. A Navy pilot still in the 
training stage of his career. 

206 * WAR SLANG 

ripcord. A cord attached to a parachute 
pack, which is pulled after jumping, 
freeing the parachute so it opens up. 

ripcord club. An aviators' and para- 
troopers' club. 

ripper. A bayonet; one using a bayonet. 

riveter. A machine gun; one who oper- 
ates a machine gun. 

roadblock. A barrier, sometimes forti- 
fied, to prevent movement of enemy traf- 
fic; any obstruction. 

roblitz. Severe bombardment by robot 
bombs; a combination of "robot" and 

robomb. Robot bomb. 

robot bomb. See buzz bomb. 

rock-happy. Bored, especially on the 
rocky islands and atolls of the Pacific. 

roger. A pilot's radio message to his op- 
erational base meaning that a message 
has been received satisfactorily. 

roller skate. A tank. 

roller-skate baby. A soldier who has 
lost both legs above the knees. 

rolls-rough. A jeep; a tank; an old auto- 
mobile. The term is a play on "Rolls- 

roll up one's flaps. To stop talking. 

Rommel's asparagus. Stakes placed 
in the ground by the Germans to thwart 

airborne landings. The technique was pi- 
oneered by Field Marshal Erwin Rom- 
mel in France. 

RON. (1) Remain overnight; an Army 
Air Corps term. (2) Squadron (as a suf- 
fix); a Navy term. For example, "comdes- 
ron" stands for "commander, destroyer 

ronchie. Slipshod; careless. 

rootin', tootin' son of a gun. An ener- 
getic person. 

rosebud. (1) A hand grenade. (2) A 

round the clock. Continuously, night 
and day (said of aerial bombing attacks). 

royal order of whale bangers. An 

"exclusive" club open only to airmen 
who have mistakenly dropped depth 
charges on whales, supposing them to be 
enemy submarines. 

RSOP. Reconnoitering, surveying, and 
occupying a position (pronounced 

rubber band. An undersized tire. 

rubber boot. An airplane deicer. 

rubberneck roost. A stag line of sol- 
diers at a dance. 

Rudolf. A dummy used to test para- 
chutes. Rudolfs were named after Rudolf 
Hess, according to Newsweek of Decem- 
ber 1, 1941. 

rugged. Wonderful; terrific; awful; dif- 
ficult. According to A. Marjorie Taylor in 


The Language of World War II (1948), the 
term was "in very general use among 
members of the armed services; the par- 
ticular meaning has to be gathered from 
the context." 

run / run in / bomb run / bombing 
run / bomb-aiming run. A steady ap- 
proach of aircraft to a target immediately 
before bombs are released. 

ru no round. A mock errand given to re- 
cruits and new men. 

Parade Rest: Runarounds 

This glossary of runarounds appeared in 
Fighting Talk (1942), by Francis Ray- 
mond Meyer. 

No dictionary of service slang would 
be complete without listing the run- 
arounds. They are gags which the poor 
recruit must suffer before he is accepted 
as a seasoned comrade-in-arms. The 
runaround, too, provides a traditional 
channel for the serviceman's humor. 
The following have long been laugh- 
producers in the Army and are now be- 
ing revived, sometimes with embroi- 

adjutant's post. Recruits often walk 
miles to borrow one. Actually it's the 
place on the parade ground where the 
adjutant stands during a review. 

cannon report. Definitely required for 
Army bookkeeping. 

invisible paint for camouflage. Rookies 
hunt for gallon buckets of it. 

key to parade grounds. Self-explan- 

key to rifle range. Self-explanatory. 

leggins stretcher. Self-explanatory. 

muster button. Imaginary item that a 
recruit must show before the Army pay- 
master will give him his check. 

post exchange (called PX). General 
store. Not a secondhand lumberyard for 
swapping fence posts. 

raincoat chevrons. Rookies hunt these 
fantasy items on rainy days to keep ex- 
perienced troopers amused. 

rubber flag. "Sounds very logical for 
use on a rainy day. Rookie searches. He 
gets wet but smart." 

skirmish line. Rookies try to locate six 
feet of it. 

sky hooks. Hooks holding targets to a 
cloud for antiaircraft guns. 

tent stretcher. Self-explanatory. 

Here are some of the most popular 
Navy runarounds: 

a dimmy gadget for a wazzel. Old- 
timers send rookies for it, and it means 
anything and nothing in particular. 

"Drugstore on the starboard (or port) 
bow, sir." That's how rookies are in- 
structed by their weisenheimer elders to 
report port and starboard lights. (Drug- 
stores used to have red and green vials 
in their windows.) 

freshwater wrench. Self-explanatory. 

"Get Charlie Noble." "You can't miss 
Charlie," the jokester assures the rookie. 
"He smokes all day." Later, much later, 
the rookie learns that "Charlie Noble" is 
the ship's stack or funnel. 

"Go look for a mail buoy." This assign- 
ment comes after the rookie's more sea- 
soned shipmate tells him a plausible 
story about buoys placed in the sea by 
the Government as mail boxes for the 
sailors and that launches empty the 

208 • WAR SLANG 

buoys at regular intervals and refill 
them with letters brought from the 

hammock stretcher. There's no such ob- 
ject. Every man does it for himself. 

key to the keelson. The keelson is a 
beam running lengthwise above the 
keel of the ship. 

key to the starboard watch. Self- 

pie tickets. Rookies need them if they 
want to eat, so they are told. 

smoke preventer. Self-explanatory. 

Tuscorora. A mythical ship which is 
something like the hobo's "Big Rock 
Candy Mountain." It has thirteen decks, 
a straw bottom and rubber stacks. It is 
talked about to test the credulity of re- 

ruptured duck. A button that honor- 
ably discharged World War II veterans 
wore in their lapels; also called "scream- 
ing eagle." It bore the image of an eagle, 
inspired by a bas-relief in Trajan's Forum 
in Rome. 

Russ. Russian; a Russian; the Russian 

Russki. A Russian. 

• -jV S * * 

sack. (1) A bed. To "hit the sack" means 
to go to bed. (2) Civilian clothes. 

sack of bull. A package, or sack, of Bull 
Durham tobacco. 

sack time. Time spent sleeping or just 
lying on one's cot. 

Sacred Cow. A nickname given to the 
plane especially designed by Douglas 
Aircraft for the use of President Franklin 
D. Roosevelt. 

sad sack. (1) A G.I. who means well 
but never does anything right; from the 
cartoon character Sad Sack, made im- 
mortal by Yank cartoonist Sergeant 
George Baker, who gave the pathetic 
private his 1942 debut. Private Sad 
Sack symbolizes all the bewildered ex- 
civilians who blunder their way through 
the mazes of Army life. (2) Any inept, 
bewildered person. 

sailorette. An enlisted woman as- 
signed to Navy duty to relieve men for 
seagoing service. The law creating this 
branch of the service was passed by Con- 
gress on April 17, 1942. 

salt and batter. Assault and battery. 

saltwater cowboy. A Marine. 

Sam's big house. A guardhouse; the 
disciplinary barracks. This and the next 
four terms allude to Uncle Sam. 

Sam's circus. The U.S. armed forces; a 
war in which the U.S. is involved. 

Sam's cop. A military policeman. 

Sam's punk. A naval mail orderly. 

Sam's sugar. Money. 

samurai. A Japanese militarist; from 
the ancient term for a warrior class. 

sand and specks. Salt and pepper. 

sandpaper the anchor. To do unnec- 
essary work. 

sand rat. A soldier on duty in the rifle 
range pit. 

Santa Claus in the pits. Good marks- 
manship on the target range. 

sarge. Sergeant. 

satchel. (1) A fat man. (2) A pocket of 
fat on a person's body. 

saturate. To bomb very heavily. 

saturation bombing. The bombing of 
a complete area (as contrasted with pre- 
cision bombing, aimed at a specific ob- 

sauerkraut face. A German. 

scag. A cigarette. 

scattergun. A shotgun; a machine gun. 

scorched earth. The destruction of 
anything of possible value to the enemy, 
usually performed on the eve of retreat. 

scrag. A cigarette. 

scrambled eggs. Gold braid on the 
caps of naval officers; the officers them- 

scratch one flattop. An enemy aircraft 
carrier has been sunk. 

screamer. An aerial torpedo. 

screwball. An odd or irrational person. 

script. A set of special orders. 

scrounge. To appropriate; to misappro- 
priate. According to Reader's Digest of 
May 1940, this was: "A slang term which 
dated back to World War I, but became 
more prevalent in World War II, espe- 
cially during the blackouts in London." 
See also under World War I, and 
scrounger, under the Korean War. 

scuttlebutt. Gossip. See under the 
Civil War. 

scuttlebutt chatter. Empty talk. 

sea ape. An old sailor; an ugly man 
or woman. 

Seabees. (1) Construction battalions 
(in the Navy). (2) Members of the con- 
struction battalions. 

According to Words of the Fighting 
Forces: "When the first construction bat- 
talion was organized last spring (1942), 
the nickname Sea Bees was adopted be- 
cause it sounds like the initials 'C.B.'s' 
and indicates at the same time that the 
men are connected with naval work and 
that they are busy workers." 

Collier's of September 19, 1942, had 
this to say: "Work of the Seabees was for- 
merly done by civilians, but experience 
at Guam, Wake and Cavite led to the 
Navy decision to put their construction 
men in uniform. Supposed to land at the 
same time or just after the Marines. Their 
work was to make a landing field, hospi- 
tal, fortifications, docks, barracks — in 
short to build secret naval bases." 

sea cop. A Marine; a Navy master-at- 

210 • WAR SLANG 

sea cow. Canned milk. 

sea dust. Salt. 

seagoing bellhop. A Marine. 

seagoing oilcan. An oil tanker. 

sea jeep. An Army amphibious ar- 
mored vehicle. 

sealed in a blanket. (1) Dead and 
buried on the field of battle. (2) Dead.and 
buried at sea (i.e., literally sent off sewn 
in a blanket). 

sea ooze. Worthless talk. 

sea pad. A Marine assigned to police 
duty aboard a man-of-war. 

sea puss. A face wrinkled from the 
winds of the sea. 

sea robin. (1) A talkative person; one 
given to spreading false reports. (2) A 
prostitute in a port. 

sea scooter. A PT boat. 

sea skimmer. An antisubmarine boat 
equipped with pontoons. Power was sup- 
plied by an airplane propeller and en- 
gine. This gadget could skim the waves 
at fifty miles per hour and couldn't be 
heard with sonic detectors by enemy 

sea sled. A motorboat of sledlike form, 
capable of great speed, having a square 
bow and stern, and characterized espe- 
cially by an inverted V-shaped hull. 

sea squatter. An aviator forced down 
at sea, successful in inflating a rubber 
raft, and rescued alive. 

seaweed. (1) Spinach. (2) Whiskers; a 

SECNAV. Secretary of the Navy. 

second Louise. A WAC second lieu- 

seconds. Second helpings at mess. 

seconds on that snipe. A request for 
a partly smoked cigarette. 

Section VIII / Section 8. (1) An other 
than honorable discharge, as a result of 
an inability to adapt oneself to Army life. 
It was formerly called "one-forty-eight- 
and-a-half," but was changed to "Section 
8" when a revision of Army regulations 
changed the numerical designation of 
the part that dealt with such matters. (2) 
A misfit; a candidate for such a dis- 

seep. A seagoing jeep. It was especially 
developed for the use of the Marines. 

see service. To come into contact with 
the enemy. 

see the chaplain. A suggestion that 
one should resign oneself to an unpleas- 
ant situation. This standard advice to 
one with a grievance about which noth- 
ing could be done probably derived from 
the fact that the chaplain was the one 
person always ready to listen with sym- 


• 211 

see the world. To enlist in the Navy. 

selectee. A man inducted into the 
Army through the Selective Service Act 
of 1940. 

self-commencer. An engine hand 

send a fish. To discharge a torpedo. 

separatee. A soldier awaiting dis- 
charge at a separation center. 

serum. Whiskey; a play on "blood 

set her down. To land an airplane. 

seven hours in the ditch. Transit 
through the Panama Canal. It takes about 
seven hours to make this fifty-mile jour- 
ney by water. The canal is also known as 
the "big ditch." 

seventy-two. Three days' liberty. 

sewer trout. Whitefish. 

S-4. A supply officer. 

shack rat. A soldier who has friends in 
the city and usually goes to visit them 
when he is on leave. 

shack up. To live with a woman to 
whom you are not married. 

shack up with a blister. To live on the 
beach with a mistress or prostitute when 
on leave from sea duty. 

shanghaied. Transferred without one's 
request and/or contrary to one's wishes. 

Shangri-La. This term, the setting of 
James Hilton's very popular book Lost 
Horizon (1933), came to mean an imagi- 
nary or secret military base. President 
Roosevelt announced in 1942 that the 
American planes that had bombed Tokyo 
had taken off from a secret base in Shan- 
gri-La (later revealed to be the aircraft 
carrier Hornet). 

shavetail general. A brand-new briga- 
dier general. 

shavetail in the box. One having com- 
pleted his training and awaiting com- 

shingle. The wing covering of an air- 

shingles. Toast. 

ship over. To reenlist. 

shit on a shingle. Chipped or creamed 
beef on toast. See s.o.s. 

shivering Liz. Jell-O. 

shoot. Go ahead and talk. 

shoot down in flames. (1) To give 
someone a reprimand. (2) To jilt 

shooting gallery. The front line. 
shoot the breeze. To converse; also 


shoot the gas to her. To open the 
throttle of an airplane. 

212 • WAR SLANG 

shoot the scuttlebutt. To gossip. See 
scuttlebutt, under the Civil War. 

short arm. A penis. 

short-arm inspection. An inspection 
for venereal disease. 

short-arm practice. Copulation. 

short circuit between the ear- 
phones. A mental lapse. 

short snorter. A member of a crew that 
has made a transoceanic flight. 

short timer. A soldier nearing the end 
of his enlistment period. 

shot. An inoculation. 

shotgun. A machine gun. 

shoulder patch. A division insignia. 

shove off. To leave; to get moving, from 
the action of getting a ship away from a 
dock. It shows up in an oft-told anecdote 
in which an Army man asks a sailor to 
say something in swabbie and the sailor 
responds, "Shove off, @#$%<£&* + ?>M<." 

shrapnel. Grape-Nuts (the cereal). 

shrubbery. Sauerkraut. 

shutters. Sleeping pills. 

S.I. Saturday inspection. 

sick-bay veteran. A chronically ill 

sidearms. Cream and sugar in coffee. 

side dish. A mistress. 

side-slip. (1) To dodge an issue; to 
shirk duty. (2) To lose altitude in an air- 
plane by drifting to the side and down 
in one motion. 

sideswiper. A speed key on a radio 
transmitter that moves from side to side 
when operating. 

sights. A bombardier; from "bomb- 

silent service. The submarine service. 
See under the Cold War. 

sin buster. A chaplain. 

single-seater. A single-seat airplane. 

sitzkrieg. An inactive period during a 
war; from the German for "sitting war." 
It was a derogatory term for the inactivity 
on the European western front during 
the winter of 1939-1940. 

six-and-twenty tootsie. A woman who 
leads one into temptation. The term is 
defined in Words of the Fighting Forces: 
"A girl who makes a flying cadet so 
heedless of time that he returns late from 
week-end leave thereby incurring six de- 
merits and twenty punishment tours." 

six-by-six. A standard heavy truck 
used to haul personnel and materials. 

six months and a bob / six months 
and a kick. A punishment of six 
months' confinement and a dishonor- 
able discharge. 

six-sixty. A punishment of six months' 
confinement and a sixty-dollar fine. 

sixth column. People who have a nega- 
tive influence on the home front. The 
term was popularized by President 
Franklin D. Roosevelt, applying it to 
those Americans who, according to Lou- 
ise D. Parry's 1942 War Dictionary, 
"practice complacency, rumor mogering, 
race hatred, unwarranted criticism of the 
war effort, labor baiting and hoarding; 
persons who wittingly or unwittingly 
provide the vehicle for distribution of 
propaganda created by fifth columnists." 
See also fifth column. 

skibby. A Japanese. According to Words 
o/the Fighting Forces: "This term is used 
on the Pacific Coast. It originally meant 
a Japanese prostitute, however, is now ap- 
plied to all persons of the race." 

skid grease. Butter. 

skip-bombing. Low-level bombing with 
delayed-action bombs that ricochet into 
the target. 

skipper. (1) The commanding officer of 
a unit. (2) The commanding officer of a 
naval station, base, ship, or squadron, 
who is usually addressed by the person- 
nel under his command as "Captain," no 
matter what his rank. 

skip the rope. To make a power-off air- 
plane landing over an obstruction, which 
can be aborted if undershot. 

skirt patrol. G.I.'s on the lookout for 

skivvies. Underwear. 

sky baby. An aviator. 


sky buggy. An airplane. 

sky pilot / sky scout. A chaplain. 

sky saddle. A parachute. 

sky winder. (1) A member of the Army 
Air Corps. (2) A tall tale. 

sky wire. A radio antenna. 

slap it on. To fine someone for a mi- 
nor offense. 

sleds. Shoes issued by the government. 

sleeping Jesus. A lazy, slow person. 
slick-up. (1) To dress in one's best uni- 

form. (2) A cleanup. 

slig. An acronym of "sucker, lowbrow, 
idiot, and goodwill buster" used as a 
verb. Invented early in the war, the term 
was cited by an Algiers correspondent 
early in February 1944, who defined it 
as an "act of discourtesy or stupid criti- 
cism" that, among the armed forces, be- 
comes an "added shell for the guns of 
Axis propaganda." 

sling one's hook. To desert. 

slip. Recorded tape (in the Army Sig- 
nal Corps). 

slip one's cable. To die. 

slip the chute. To tug on a parachute's 
cords so as to make it change direction. 

slip the clutch. To criticize; to engage, 
as one would a clutch. 

214 * WAR SLANG 

slipway. A slope in a dock or shipyard 
from which ships can be launched. 

slop house. A mess hall. 

slow roll. A slow rotation of an airplane 
on its longitudinal axis through an arc of 
360 degrees. 

slum / slumgullion. A vegetable and 
meat stew. See under the Civil War. See 


slum in heavy marching orders. A 

meat pie with a heavy crust. 

slum wagon. A large bomber. 

SMOE. An electronic gremlin. News- 
week of December 21, 1945, cites an un- 
identified Navy man's explanation of the 
term's origin: "Our explanation of 
Smoe's origin is as follows: the electrical 
term OHMS which appears on drawings 
of radio circuits, when held up backward 
to the light reads SMHO. This little gen- 
tleman who knew what was going on be- 
hind the circuit changed his name to 

smoke jumpers. Parachutists who 
fight forest fires. They were recruited 
largely among conscientious objectors, 
according to the New York Herald Trib- 
une of March 1, 1944. 

smokestacker. A person who tells un- 
believable tales. 

smoke sticks. Airplane machine guns. 

smoke wagon. A field artillery gun. marine. 

smoke watch. A nonexistent errand of- 
fered as an excuse by one of the engine 
crew so that he may go on deck. 

smug boat. A vessel carrying contra- 
band on the Chinese coast. Smug boats 
were later used to run the Japanese 
blockade. The word "smug" here means 
"trim" or "smart," rather than "self- 

snafu. Situation normal, all fouled up 
(or fucked up). The word is defined in a 
1944 slang dictionary as "temporary tur- 
moil resulting from an abrupt change 
in orders." 

snake's ankle / snake's eyebrows / 
snake's hips / snake's pajamas / 
snake's pants / snake's toenails / 
snake's whiskers / snake's yoo- 
hoo. Something excellent. The term is 
in the tradition of "the cat's pajamas." 

snap maneuver. An airplane maneu- 
ver in which the airplane is whipped 
quickly into the desired position by sud- 
denly moving the controls. 

snore rack. A sleeping bag. 

snowdrops. White-helmeted American 
military police; a bit of London slang. 

snow under. To exaggerate. 

snow whites. Army nurses who wore 
white duty uniforms. 

snuff box. A depth charge; from the 
notion that it could kill (snuff out) a sub- 


S.O. (1) Scout observation. (2) Spe- 
cial orders. 

Soapsuds Row. The married noncom- 
missioned officers' quarters. See under 
the Spanish-American War era. 

sofar. Sound fixing and ranging; a sys- 
tem developed by the Navy, according to 
Newsweek of May 27, 1946, for locating 
survivors far at sea. 

soger / sojer. A soldier. 

SOINC. Supply officer in command. 
See orNC. 

S.O.L. Shit out of luck; often sanitized 
as "sure out of luck" or "soldier out of 

soldier bull / soldier cop. A military 

soldier of the seven seas. A Marine. 

soldier's one percent. An agreement 
by which a soldier borrows a dollar and 
pays back two dollars on payday. 

solid bundle of blitz. A large forma- 
tion of enemy aircraft. 

solo. To fly an airplane alone. 

some groceries. Good food. 

sonar. Sound navigation and ranging; a 
system used in detecting enemy subma- 
rines and, on submarines, in detecting 
enemy ships. 

S- 1 . A staff officer who handles person- 
nel records and paperwork. 

son of a jeep. A jeep. 

son of Mars. A soldier. 

soogie moogie. Any cleaning solution. 

S.O.P. (1) Standard operating proce- 
dure; any prescribed, preferable, or ha- 
bitual method. (2) Senior officer present. 

soppin's. Gravy. 

S.O.S. (1) Shit on a shingle (i.e., 
chipped or creamed beef on toast). 
(2) Services of supply. 

S.O.S. for 100 

The following recipe is from The Army 
Cook (1942): 

Beef, dried, chipped or sliced on toast 
(for 100) 

7 pounds chipped or sliced dried beef 
2 pounds fat, butter preferred 

1 pound flour, browned in fat 
4 cans milk, evaporated 

2 bunches parsley, chopped fine 
1/2 ounce pepper 

4 gallons beef stock 

130 slices bread (about 12 pounds) 

Melt the fat in the pan and add the 
flour. Cook a few minutes to brown the 
flour. Add the milk and beef stock, stir- 
ring constantly to prevent lumping. Add 
the dried beef and cook 5 minutes. Add 
the parsley and pepper. Serve hot on 

soul aviator. A preacher or a priest. 

216 • WAR SLANG 

sound off. (1) To gripe; to speak one's 
mind. (2) To identify oneself by name 
and rank during a military drill. 

soup. (1) Clouds, rain, and, most of all, 
fog. (2) Dynamite. 

soup jockey. A cook. 

soup kitchen. A large bomber. 

soup up. (1) To adjust an airplane en- 
gine's fuel mixture to increase power and 
performance. (2) To eat. 

sow belly. Salt pork. 

S.P. Shore Patrol (the Navy's military 

S.P.A. South Pacific area. 

spam can. A handie-talkie (a smaller 
version of the walkie-talkie); from the 
name of a common canned lunch meat, 
which in turn got its name from a blend 
of "spiced" and "ham." 

spam fleet. Landing craft and other 
utilitarian, slow-moving craft. 

spare tire. A "reserve" sweetheart. 

sparks. A radio operator on a ship. 

Spars. The Women's Reserve of the 
United States Coast Guard Reserve. A bill 
creating this special unit was signed on 
November 22, 1942. The name was taken 
from the motto of the Coast Guard, "Sem- 
per Paratus" ("always prepared"). 

speed artist. An expert telegraph op- 

speed buggy / speed chariot / speed 
crate / speed hack. A pursuit air- 

spiders. Steel rails buried by the Ger- 
mans on the beaches of Normandy (and 
other possible landing sites). They were 
meant to hamper allied landings by ship. 

spider webs. Parachutes shot into the 
air trailing long wires with which to en- 
tangle enemy aircraft. 

spill it. To confess. 

spill red ink. To draw blood. 

spin in. (1) To fail to recover from a 
spin before one's airplane crashes. (2) To 
take a nap. 

spin one's wheels. To waste time or 
energy in useless activity. 

spirit broker. A priest, preacher, or 

Spit. A Spitfire British pursuit airplane, 
which along with the Hurricane formed 
what was termed "the backbone of the 
R.A.R Fighting Command." 

spit kit. (1) An ashtray. (2) A small 
boat, such as a harbor tug or patrol boat. 

split fly. To do stunts over an airfield. 

Spokane. Pork and beans. 

spoon up. To clean up. 

spoony. (1) Neat in appearance. (2) 


spread the applesauce / spread the 
baloney / spread the bull / spread 
the bunk / spread the crap. To trick 
or deceive, as by a falsehood or flattery. 

spud duty. Kitchen police assignment 
(i.e., peeling potatoes, or spuds). 

spud hole. A guardhouse. 

spuds with the bark on. Unpeeled 

sputterbus. An old airplane. 

squared away. (1) Having one's uni- 
form and equipment in order; ready. 
(2) Having no debts or obligations. 

squawk box. An intercom speaker. 

squawk sheet. A pilot's detailed writ- 
ten report on defects discovered when 
flying an airplane. 

S.S. Submarines. 

stack. (1) An order of pancakes. (2) A 
string of radio messages. 

stall. The condition of an airplane 
whose air speed is too low to generate 
the lift needed to sustain it in the air. 

stamps. One assigned 
mail orderly. 

to duty as a 

stand-up. A pinup of a woman who 
had stood her man up. According to 
Newsweek of April 2, 1945, stand-ups 
were: "Pictures of girls who failed to wait 
for the men to come home, and married 
someone else." 

St. Anthony highball. An enema. 

stateside. Of, in, or toward the U.S. Ac- 
cording to an item in Yank for December 
1, 1944, quoted by A. Marjorie Taylor in 
The Language of World War II (1948): 
"American soldiers abroad used this ad- 
jective to refer to things back in America. 
For example, 'There was a genuine State- 
side flavor to the celebration.' The word 
stateside antedates World War II, having 
been long used in Hawaii and the Philip- 
pines, but it was picked up and popular- 
ized by service personnel overseas." 

static agitator. A student radio op- 

static bender. A radio operator. 

stationmaster. A commander of an air- 

station-wagon patriot. A certain kind 
of woman volunteer in the war effort. 
The term is defined in Louise D. Parry's 
The War Dictionary (1942): 

A term of derision for those wealthy or 
moderately well-off women who volunteer 
to help America's war effort in order to sat- 
isfy their personal ambitions (to see their 
photos in the papers, to boss other women, 
etc.) rather than out of true patriotism. The 
name is derived from the station-wagon au- 
tomobiles in which these society ladies 
like to drive up to whatever place they 
"serve" as volunteers. 

steam shovel. A potato peeler. 

steam tug. A large woman; from the 
image of a tugboat. 

step high, wide, and handsome. To 

dissipate oneself; to go the pace. 

218 • WAR SLANG 

stern. The rear end. 

stemchaser. (1) A man overly fond of 
women. (2) A gun so mounted on a ship 
as to fire to the rear. 

stew builder. A cook. 

S-3. A staff officer who plans action 
and training. 

stick. A number of bombs arranged for 
release from a bomber so as to fall in a 
spaced series across a target. 

stickler. A strict officer. 

stiff pond. The Dead Sea (in the sense 
that a dead person is a "stiff"). 

stiff sheet. A cadaver cover. 

stiff snatcher. A stretcher bearer. 

Stilwell stride. A marching pace. Ac- 
cording to Time of June 1, 1942: "105 
steps per minute. Pace at which General 
Joseph W. Stilwell led the group of sol- 
diers and civilians from Burma to India." 

stinger. (1) A torpedo. (2) The tongue. 

stinkeroo. Poor in quality; low grade. 

stir. A guardhouse or prison. 

stooge. A copilot. 

stop one. To be shot (wounded or 

storm. (1) The condition one is in when 
excited and not knowing what one is do- 
ing. (2) A wife. 

storm tossed. Agitated by passion. 

stove pipe. A mortar. 

stow it / stow the gab. To be quiet. 

strafe. To shoot with a machine gun 
from an airplane. This German term 
came into use during World War I, ini- 
tially in the phrase Gott strafe England 
("God punish England"). Said The New 
York Times in 1946: "Strafe is now used 
to describe the operation in which 
troops are machine-gunned from low- 
flying planes." See also under World 
War I. 

straight kick. A dishonorable dis- 

stratosphere Joe. A tall man. 

street monkey. A member of a band. 

strike-me-dead. A small beer. 

striker. An officer's orderly. 

stripe. A chevron. 

stripe-happy. A soldier too eager for 

strip of hell. A strip of land between 
opposing armies. 

strip the stripes. To demote to the 

struggle. A dance held at an Army 

struggle buggy. A jeep. 


stuff. (1) A woman; women. (2) 
Clouds; weather. 

stump jumper. A Marine from a rural 

Stunt. To perform aerial acrobatics. 

St. Vitus davenport / St. Vitus 
wagon. A tank. 

S-2. An intelligence officer. 

sub. A submarine. 

sub chaser. A small, fast craft equipped 
with depth charges for destroying sub- 

submarine. (1) A bedpan. (2) doughnut 
(a sinker). 

submarine ears. The ability to wake 
up when there is any change in the 
sounds around you while sleeping. The 
term alludes to the use of sonar on sub- 

submarine turkey. A fish. 

sub's stinger. A torpedo. 

subversive. Tending to undermine a 
government. According to A. Marjorie 
Taylor, in The Language of World War II 
(1948): "The adjective subversive, 'hav- 
ing a tendency to upset or overthrow,' 
came into general usage in World War II 
with the meaning, activities inimical to 
the war effort." 

sugar report. A letter from one's sweet- 

suicide boat. A PT boat (because of the 
dangers they faced). 

suicide soldier. A machine gunner. 

suicide squad. Those who operate a 
machine gun under fire. 

Super Fortress. The Boeing B-29 

superman drawers / superman pants. 

Long woolen underdrawers reminiscent 
of the comic-book hero's tights. 

superman suit. Long, one-piece gov- 
ernment-issue underwear. 

susf u. Situation unchanged, still fouled 
up (or fucked up). 

swab. (1) An oversized mop used for 
the cleaning of a ship's decks. (2) To rub 
or clean with a swab; to mop. (3) A 
sailor; a long form was "swab jockey." 

swabbie from a birdboat. A sailor 
from an aircraft carrier. 

swallow the anchor. To give up; to 
quit; to desert. 

swamp seed. Rice. 

swanks. A soldier's best uniform (i.e., 
his swankiest outfit). 

swear like a trooper. To swear vio- 

sweat / sweat out. To wait anxiously. 
An item in The New York Times of June 
4, 1944, puts this term into historical 

220 • WAR SLANG 

A term meaning to wait helplessly, ner- 
vously, anxiously for something over which 
you have absolutely no control; that is, 
waiting for the return of war planes 
carrying your pals, or waiting for promo- 
tion, or waiting for an overdue letter from 
home. All branches of the services used the 
phrase "sweating it out" but the Air Forces 
claim that they started it. 

sweat a crack-up. To anticipate a 
crash in an airplane (while avoiding the 
taboo word "crash"). 

swimmando. A type of commando. The 
term is defined in Words of the Fighting 
Forces: "A new American version of En- 
gland's daring Commandos are the 
'swimmando corps' — now adopted by 
the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry Division. 
These men are being trained to swim riv- 
ers, raid enemy shore installations, and 
establish bridgeheads for full-scale at- 

swing shift. A work shift in industrial 
plants from three p.m. to midnight. Swing 
shifts were especially important to the 
war effort. 

swing the lead. To tell a story; to bull- 
shit; to GOOF OFF. 

swish. A thermal-jet engine. The term 
alludes to the sound it makes. 

• tr J it • 

tag. An officer of the tactical depart- 
ment in the Army. 

tail-end Charlie. (1) The rear gunner 
in a bomber. (2) The rear aircraft in a for- 

tailspin. (1) A condition of confusion. 
(2) The spiraling fall of an airplane after 
losing speed. 

tail stinger. The rear gunner in a 

take a brace. To take a hazing from ca- 
det upperclassmen; to take a drink of liq- 
uor. A brace is an exaggerated position 
of attention. 

take a dekko. To go on deck for a look 
at the outside world. 

take a dose of hot lead. To be shot. 

take another blanket. To reenlist. 

take off. (1) To leave the ground in an 
aircraft. (2) To jump from an aircraft in 
flight. (3) To go away; to get out of sight. 

take the field. To open hostilities; to 
begin a campaign. 

tall -water sailor. A sailor who has 
crossed the ocean several times. 

tallyho. (1) The enemy has been 
sighted and recognized as hostile (in ra- 
dio code). This signal is still in use 
among combat fliers. (2) A squadron 
leader's signal to break formation for a 
dogfight; an R.A.F. term borrowed from 
fox hunting. 

tangle in the soup. To get lost in the 

tank-dozer. A type of combat vehicle. 
It was described in The New York 
Times of August 4, 1944: "A new Allied 
break-through weapon consisting of a 


medium-sized tank to which was fitted a 
three-and-one-half-ton blade; combined 
lunging power of an M-4 Sherman tank 
with the slashing force of a bulldozer; 
capable of disposing of trees eighteen 
inches in diameter." 

tanker. A member of a tank crew. 

tankefte. A small tank. 

tarantula soup. Whiskey. 

tarfu. Things are really fouled up (or 
fucked up). 

target paste. Gravy 

taxi up. To approach; to be in motion. 

tear bomb. A gas bomb that makes the 
eyes smart and water, producing tempo- 
rary blindness. 

tear 'em out. To clash gears. 

tear off a stripe. To rebuke or repri- 
mand someone. 

tell off. To count off; to select for spe- 
cial duty; to reprimand. 

tempest-beaten tub. A ship beat up 
by storms. 

ten-in-one ration. A balanced ration 
for ten men for one day. It is packed in 
five menus designed to provide each 
man with the equivalent of the c-ration. 
Each packed menu also includes ciga- 
rettes (10), halazone tablets (50), matches 
(20 sticks), individual can openers (2), 
toilet soap (1 cake), toilet paper (125 
sheets), and paper towels (20 sheets). 

ten-ton tessie. A 22,000-pound bomb 
used in bombing German cities in Febru- 
ary and March 1945. 

terps. An interpreter. 

terrier with shamrocks. Corned beef 
and cabbage. 

T.G.'s. Torpedo planes. 

that's all she wrote. That's all— a cus- 
tomary cry of the company mail clerk at 
the end of mail call. 

thirty-horse putt-putt. A small com- 
mercial airplane. 

thousand-mile shirt. An olive-drab 
Army shirt (i.e., a shirt that one might 
have to wear for many days and many 

Thousand-Mile Stare / Thousand- 
Yard Stare. See two-thousand-yard 


three-baller of the deck. A money- 

three in the mill. A punishment of 
three months' confinement in the guard- 

three L's. Lead, latitude, and lookout; a 
Navy term. 

three-point landing. Ham and two 


three-starrer. A vice-admiral. 

three-striper. (1) A Navy commander. 
(2) An Army sergeant. 

222 * WAR SLANG 

throne gang. The officers around 

thumbs up. Everything is okay. This is 
usually a gesture, but it can also be 

thunderbird. (1) A flier (pilot, bom- 
bardier, etc.) in the Army Air Corps. (2) 
A combat aircraft. 

thunderbolt. A PT boat. 

tickers. The Signal Corps. 

tickety-boo. Fine; okay. This bit of Brit- 
ish slang was picked up by many 

tiger. Shut up; zip your lip. A. Marjorie 
Taylor, in The Language of World War II 
(1948), says she first heard the term in a 
Lowell Thomas newscast of August 11, 

tiger meat. Beef. 

tin can. (1) A Navy destroyer of the 750- 
ton class. (2) A depth charge. (3) A sub- 

tin fish. A torpedo. 

tin-fish trailer. A surface mark made 
by the periscope of a moving submarine. 

tin pickle. (1) A torpedo. (2) A sub- 

tire patches. Pancakes. 
T.N.T. Today, not tomorrow. 

toe parade. An inspection of feet. 

togglier. A bombardier. 

Tojo cigar. A midget (two-man) subma- 
rine. One of these submarines, renamed 
for the Japanese admiral Tojo, was 
washed ashore during the raid on Pearl 
Harbor, on December 7, 1941. 

Tokyo tanks. An airplane's auxiliary 
gas tanks (i.e., those that would get one 
to Tokyo). 

Tommy / Tommy gun / Tommy gat / 
Tommy rod / Tommy roscoe. A sub- 
machine gun. 

too little and too late. A popular ex- 
pression of regret that the U.S. did not 
send enough weapons and supplies to 
Europe to stop Hitler earlier. 

toothpick village. Wooden barracks. 

top / top kick / top knocker. A top 
sergeant; a first sergeant. 

top cover / top flight. Fighter planes 
flying above bombers to give them pro- 

top cutter / topper / top soak. A first 

top sergeant / top sarg. The highest- 
ranking sergeant in a unit, whose duty is 
to handle the soldiers for the com- 
mander of the unit. 

topside. (1) Above; on deck. (2) The 
bridge of a ship. 


Topside from the Top — A Word 

In Army Talk-. A Familiar Dictionary of Sol- 
dier Speech (1943), Elbridge Colby de- 
clares that "topside" is pure pidgin 
English, "taken from a mode of lan- 
guage common to Chinamen and Fili- 
pinos, and meaning upstairs or a higher 
level." Colby continues: 

For instance, on the island of Corregidor, 
the garrison groups on the sloping hill 
are, according to their locations, called 
'Top-Side," "Middle-Side," and "Bottom- 
Side." The word has been brought from 
the Far East with folk returning from for- 
eign service tours, and is occasionally 
heard at garrisons at home. It is also 
frequently used to speak of persons in 
authority, or at a higher headquarters, 
as 'Those Top-Side." 

topside sailor. A sailor whose duties 
keep him on deck. 

top soldier. A first-class soldier; a first 

torpedo body. A woman with a good 

torps. The men responsible for the tor- 
pedo tubes. 

toss oars. To hold oars with their 
blades upright, as a salute. 

tough row of buttons to shine. A 

hard job or assignment. 

tour. A penalty march. 

town major. A liaison officer between 
townsfolk and soldiers. 

tracer. A bullet or shell that gives off a 
trail of smoke or fire, allowing the 
shooter to check his aim. 

trade, the. The submarine service. 

trailing edge. The rear edge of a pro- 
peller blade. 

traphanded. Deceitful; sinful. 

trigger talk. Shooting. 

trooper. A soldier in a cavalry division, 
which has troops instead of companies 
and squadrons instead of battalions. 

troubleshooter. (1) One who locates 
and fixes problems. (2) A member of the 
Army inspector general's department. 

T.S. cards. Tough shit cards. They are 
described by Kenneth L. Dixon in an ac- 
count of life at the Anzio beachhead: 
"Beachhead chaplains are carrying a 
special 'tough stuff ticket these days 
which they issue to guys with com- 
plaints about which nothing can be 
done. One ticket says 'this slip entitles 
the bearer to 15 minutes of crying time 
on a chaplain's shoulder for each ques- 
tion punched below.'" 

tub. A scout car. 

tubes. (1) Torpedoes. (2) Those who 
handle torpedoes. Both meanings allude 
to the tubes from which torpedoes are 

tuifu. The ultimate in foul-ups (or 

224 • WAR SLANG 

Turkhead McGirk. A sailor adept at ty- 
ing knots. 

turn turtle. To capsize a boat (i.e., to 
render it as helpless as a turtle on its 

twist a dizzy. To roll a cigarette. 

two-step. A chicken. 

two-striper. (1) An Army corporal. (2) 
A Navy lieutenant. 

two submarines and a mug of murk, 
no cow. Two doughnuts and a cup of 
coffee without cream. 

Two-Thousand-Yard Stare. Name given 
to the look of the man with a combat- 
harrowed psyche. The term was the title 
of a 1944 Tom Lea painting depicting the 
face of a battle- weary G.I. about whom 
Lea wrote: "Two-thirds of his company 
have been killed, but he is still standing. 
So he will return to attack this mourn- 
ing. How much can a human being en- 
dure." Sometimes called the Thousand- 
Mile Stare and the Thousand- Yard Stare. 

typewriter. A .30-caliber machine gun, 
an automatic rifle, or any other clatter- 
ing gun. 

• * u 

a • 

ugly duckling. A liberty ship; an ugly 

umbrella. (1) A type of maneuver or at- 
tack by airplanes protecting ground 
forces in action. (2) A protective screen 
of fighter aircraft. (3) A parachute. 

Uncle Samdom. The United States. 

Uncle Sam's boys. The men of the 
armed forces. 

Uncle Sam's party. Payday in the 
armed forces. 

Uncle Sam's rag. The American flag. 

Uncle Sugar. The United States. Says 
A. Marjorie Taylor in The Language of 
World War II (1948): "Expression used 
widely in the Pacific (and probably else- 
where) when referring to the United 
States. Derived from code words used in 
radio to transcribe the letters US." 

undergear. Underwear. 

underground. An outlawed political 
or military movement or organization 
operating in secret. During the war this 
term described a number of very active 
and sometimes very efficient groups of 
citizens in conquered nations working 
for the overthrow of the occupying Axis 

undershoot. To land an airplane short 
of the mark. 

under steam. Angered. 

underwater battlewagon. A fully 
armed submarine. 

undress. (1) The dress of soldiers out 
of uniform. (2) Ordinary military dress 
(as opposed to full dress). 

unload a fish. To discharge a torpedo. 


unreel a line. To trick or deceive, as by 
a falsehood or flattery. 

unrigged. (1) Naked. (2) Out of com- 
mission, damaged, or in dry dock (said 
of a ship). 

up / up-check. A successful squadron 
flight check; from thumbs up. 

upstairs. (1) The sky. (2) In flight. 

U.S.A.A.C. United States Army Air 

U.S.O. United Service Organizations. 
The U.S.O. was created from six preex- 
isting nongovernmental service organi- 
zations to provide recreation and special 
services for the troops. 

• * v * * 

vackie. An evacuee. 

VACS. Volunteer Army Canteen Serv- 
ice. A VAC is a person engaged or em- 
ployed in that service. 

Valley Forge. A temporary tent city 
during cold weather. 

varsity crewman. A Navy officer; a 
backhanded reference to the many col- 
lege boys who were given commissions 
during the war and whose only previous 
naval experience might have been in 
crew racing. 

V-discs. Twelve-inch double-faced plas- 
tic records of popular and classical 
music recorded by outstanding artists. 

They were shipped to the troops 
monthly by the Special Services Di- 

V-E Day and V-J Day. Victory-in- 
Europe Day and Victory-in-Japan Day. 
These designations were suggested by 
James F. Byrnes, director of war mobili- 
zation. V-E Day was announced this way 
in the London Daily Sketch for May 8, 


Prime Minister to Announce the End in 
Europe This Afternoon 

Official statement: 

An official announcement will be broad- 
cast by the Prime Minister at three o'clock 
this afternoon. 

In view of this fact, to-day will be treated 
as Victory in Europe Day and will be re- 
garded as a holiday. 

V-J Day was celebrated on August 14, 

vessel man. A pot washer. 

vet. A veteran. 

V-for-Victory. An allied slogan and 
hand signal. Its importance is explained 
by Stuart Berg Flexner in I Hear America 
Talking (1976): "'Victory' was the key 
word of World War II. 'Victory' meant the 
end of the war, the liberation of Europe, 
the end of totalitarianism. It was repre- 
sented by the letter V on posters, in slo- 
gans, and in the V-for- Victory hand sign, 
made by raising the index and middle 
fingers into a V." 

Winston Churchill made the V-for- 
Victory hand sign famous by using it fre- 
quently. The smiling, cigar-chomping 
Churchill flashing the V was a common 
newspaper and newsreel image. 

226 * WAR SLANG 

V — The Birth of a Symbol 

In The Language of World War II (1948), 
A. Marjorie Taylor gives this account of 
the origin of the V symbol: 

January 14, 1 94 1 , Victor de Laveleye, 
a member of the Belgian Parliament ex- 
iled in London, in a broadcast to his 
homeland, proposed the use of the letter 

V as a symbol of passive resistance in 
Nazi-occupied lands. He had heard that 
Belgian children were chalking the ini- 
tials RAF (for Royal Air Force) on walls 
and sidewalks, but he thought one letter 
which could be chalked quickly would 
be safer. He chose the letter "V." . . . The 

V stood not only for "Victory" and for the 
French Victoire but also for Vrieheid and 
Vrijheid, the words for freedom in Flem- 
ish and Dutch respectively. The scheme 
rapidly evolved into the most ambitious 
British propaganda campaign of the 
war. On July 4, 1 941 , the British Broad- 
casting Corporation carried speeches in 
all European languages. These were 
sprinkled with the Morse code for V, 
three dots and a dash. The opening bar 
of Beethoven's C minor symphony, three 
short notes and a long note, known as 
the fate theme, was chosen as the leit- 
motif of the movement. July 20 was 
proclaimed by the British as "V day." V 
clubs were formed. Radio listeners were 
also told to open their Bibles to Daniel 
V, which contains the words written on 
the wall: "Mene mene tekel upharsin," 
or, "God hath numbered thy kingdom 
and finished." 

V-girl. See victory girl. 

vice. (1) A vice admiral. (2) Love. 

vichyate. To subject France to the Vi- 
chy regime. 

victory garden / V-garden. Vegetable 
gardens in the U.S. planted to help in the 

war effort. A. Marjorie Taylor gives this 
account in The Language of World War 
II (1948): 

A week after the bombing of Pearl Har- 
bor, December 7, 1941, gardeners stopped 
talking of Defense gardens, and began call- 
ing them Victory gardens. As food prices 
went up and food became scarcer, and 
point rationing was instituted, more and 
more persons planted vegetables in their 
Victory gardens, vegetables both for eating 
and for canning. 

victory girl / V-girl. A girl under six- 
teen years of age who, without chaper- 
one, became a pickup for servicemen, 
especially in big cities. In New York City, 
they were taken into custody to protect, 
as it was put at the time, "the morals of 
juveniles and the health of our armed 
forces." Writing in Life for December 20, 
1943, Roger Butterfield reported on syn- 
onyms for V-girl: "Khaki wackies, cuddle 
bunnies, round-heels, patriotutes, chip- 
pies, good-time Janes, Victory girls are 
terms applied to delinquent girls; ship- 
yard orphans and door key kids are 
names for neglected children." 

V-Girls— Who Were They? 

This is how Eleanor Lake addressed the 
question of V-girls in the May 1943 is- 
sue of Common Sense.- 

They aren't professional bad girls, 
these "victory girls" and "cuddle bun- 
nies" who raise the truancy rate in high 
school, go uniform hunting in every rail- 
road station, wander arm-in-arm down 
Main Street late at night looking for 
pick-ups. They are just ordinary kids 
who have been swept along by a torrent 
of wartime excitement and free spend- 
ing. When they run afoul of the law, 
and are asked why they are delinquent, 
their answers are amazingly naive. The 
most common reason given is: "Because 

there's nothing else to do in this town." 
Next comes that age-old excuse: "Be- 
cause it's my patriotic duty to comfort 
these poor boys who may go overseas 
and get killed." 

victory suit / V-suit. A suit for civilian 
wear designed to save materials through 
the elimination of such things as cuffs 
and patch pockets. 

V.I. P. / Viper. Very important person. A 
Viper was considered much superior to 
a "Piper" (pretty important person). This 
nickname was given particularly to im- 
portant persons traveling on planes in 
war areas. 

visiting fireman. A visiting officer, to 
whom courtesies must be paid. 

V-mail. Victory mail. See airgraph 

volplane. To descend in an airplane 
without motor power or with the power 
shut off. 

vomit iron rations / vomit lead / 
vomit leaden death. To shell; to 

V.T. fuse. Variable time fuse; a secret 
weapon that the Army code-named 
"Pozit" and the Navy called "Buck 
Rogers." The V.T. fuse was a self-powered 
radio transmitter and receiver small 
enough to fit into the nose of an antiair- 
craft shell and tough enough to stand the 
terrific shock of firing. 

• -tr W * * 

WAC. Women's Army Corps; a member 
of the WACs. 

wads. A naval gunner. 

WAFS. Women's Auxiliary Ferrying 
Squadron. Here is how they were de- 
scribed in Words of the Fighting Forces: 

Members of this organization must be 
not less than 21 years of age nor more than 
35, high school education, commercial li- 
cense with 200 H.P. rating, at least 500 
hours logged and certified flying time, 
American citizenship, and cross-country 
experience. The unit will have an initial 
strength of about 50, 40 active pilots and 
10 assigned to administrative duties. They 
will have civil service status, without an 
examination, and the pay will be $3,000 a 
year. Headquarters will be at Wilmington, 

wagon. An aircraft. 

wagon soldier. A field artilleryman. 

wagon train. A caravan of Army sup- 
ply vehicles. 

Wags. The k-9 corps; from its tail- 
wagging members. 

Waldorf. A mess hall; an allusion to 
the swank Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, in New 
York City. 

walkabout bottle. Oxygen in a bottle 
for emergency use. 

walkie-talkie. A small, portable two- 
way field radio. According to American 
Speech for February 1941: 

228 • WAR SLANG 

The first portable two-way set was devel- 
oped in 1933 in the laboratories of the Sig- 
nal Corps. Walkie-Talkie was the nickname 
given by soldiers to the first sets made by 
Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, but as 
popularity of the device grew, "walkie- 
talkie" slipped into official Army jargon 
and is now applied to all similar sets. 

walking Johnny. A Marine; from the 
nickname for the Marine on a recruit- 
ing poster. 

walkout club. Airmen forced to walk 
to safety after bailing out. A. Marjorie 
Taylor, in The Language of World War II 
(1948), gives this report based on an In- 
formation Please broadcast of May 26, 

So many crews of American transport 
and battle planes, most of them flying 
along the air transport route into China, 
had been rescued from the North Burma 
jungles, that they formed the Walkout Club. 
Membership was limited to all those on ac- 
tive service with American forces who 
spent time in the jungle after parachuting 
to the ground when their planes were 
forced down. 

walrus. One who cannot swim. 

waltzing Matilda. A tank. 

war baby. (1) A child of a soldier born 
during a war or just after a war is over. 
(2) A stockholding whose value in- 
creases because of a war. 

war bride. A woman who marries an 
overseas U.S. serviceman. 

warfish. A submarine; a torpedo. 

war of nerves. A contest in which ru- 
mors, propaganda, and other elements of 

psychological warfare are employed to 
unnerve an enemy. It was believed that 
the French were quick to surrender after 
only a little fighting in the summer of 
1940 because of the "war of nerves." 

war paint. Official or full dress. 

warphan. A war orphan. According to 
American Speech of October 1939: "The 
term was used in World War I and re- 
vived in China around 1938. Though it 
was used in World War II, 'vackie' (from 
evacuee) became the more generally 
used term." 

war shoes. Heavy shoes; combat boots. 

war time. Wartime daylight savings 
time. It was officially termed "war time" 
by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 

washed out. (1) Exhausted; in poor 
health. (2) Dismissed before completing 
flight training. (3) Killed in action; killed 
while in flight. 

washing machine. A training squad- 
ron commander's airplane, in which ca- 
dets are given qualification tests; a plane 
in which an unsuccessful cadet is 


washing-machine Charlie. A Japa- 
nese bomber whose engines sounded 
like a washing machine. 

wash out. To be eliminated from 
flight training. 

wash out on the range. To fail to hit 
a target on the firing range. 


watch the hook. A warning used to ter- 
rorize recruits about to receive injec- 
tions. See also hook. 

water buffalo. An amphibious tank. 

watercan. A depth charge; a sub- 

water rat. A veteran sailor. 

water wasp. A PT boat (because of its 
ability to sting). 

WAVES. Women Appointed for Volun- 
teer Emergency Service; a branch of the 
Naval Reserve. 

weasel. A caterpillar-tread truck. 

weather-krock. A meteorologist. 

weevil. Rice; from its appearance be- 
fore being cooked. 

Werewolves. A German underground 
group pledged to destroy both allied in- 
vaders and German "traitors." 

when the ducks are walking. 

Weather too poor for flying. 

where the hair's short. At a disad- 

whimsy. The Y.M.C.A. (as if said 

whippet. A light, fast tank; from the 
breed of dog. 

whip stall. A stall from a vertical 
climb, which makes the airplane's nose 
whip violently forward. 

whirlwind. A fast, two-engine, single- 
seater airplane, with four cannons and a 
high tail. 

whiskers. Uncle Sam; a man employed 
by the government. The allusion is to 
Uncle Sam's white beard. 

whiskey warrior. Any fighting man 
given to alcoholic excess. 

whistle dick. An unliked or underval- 
ued person. 

white discharge. Any form of dis- 
charge other than dishonorable. 

whites. A white Navy uniform. 

whorehouse on wheels. A house 
trailer used by prostitutes, in which they 
entertain their customers. 

wilco. Will comply. This radio code was 
used throughout the services and taken 
up by civilians. "Roger — wilco" means 
"Okay — I'll do it." See also roger. 

wild hangar flying. Rumors, false in- 
formation, or wild theories. 

willie in the can. Canned corned beef. 

Wimpy special. (1) A hamburger. In 
U.S. Army canteens in Australia ham- 
burgers were named after Popeye's ham- 
burger-loving friend J. Wellington 
Wimpy. (2) The British Wellington 
bomber; no doubt from the character's 
middle name. 

windjammer. An Army bugler. 

wind sock. A wind indicator that re- 
sembles a gigantic sock. 

230 • WAR SLANG 

wing and wing. A close flying for- 

winged whale. A large Catalina Fly- 
ing Boat. 

wing heavy. Intoxicated. 

winglet. A flying cadet. 

wingover. A flying maneuver in which 
a rapid change of direction of 180 de- 
grees is effected. 

wings. An insignia worn by airmen. 

wipe out. To ruin; to kill. 

wireman. One who works on tele- 
phone or telegraph wires; an operator. 

wolf pack. A group of three or more 
German submarines raiding allied con- 
voys in the Atlantic. 

woofin. A person who tells tall tales. 

woof woof. A battalion sergeant major. 

work one's ticket. To shirk duty. 

World War I. The war of 1914-1918, 
previously known as the Great War. The 
name came into popularity in September 
1939, a week after world war ii first ap- 
peared in Time. Lt. Col. C. A. Court Rep- 
ington published a book entitled The 
First World War 1914-1918 in 1920. Rep- 
ington had first used "First World War" 
in his diary in a September 10, 1918 

World War II. The official name for the 
war of 1939-1945. The name was first 

used in Time magazine, in its issue of 
September 11, 1939, but not officially ac- 
cepted in the U.S. until 1945 by Presi- 
dent Harry S Truman. 

World War II— By Any Other 

Although "World War II" was quickly ac- 
cepted as the name for the conflict, there 
were many other suggestions, including 
some by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who 
never liked the name. Here is a sam- 
pling of the other suggestions: 

The European War. 

The Fatherland War. 

Hitler's War. This was one of a num- 
ber of names suggested by various 
news organizations during the 1939 
lull. Others included: The Little War That 
Wasn't There, The Word War, The Weird 
War, The Nutsy War, and The Nervy 
Nazi War. 

The Patriotic War. 

The People's War. This was suggested 
by Australian prime minister John 

The Teutonic War. 

The Teutonic Plague. 

The Tyrant's War. 

The War for Survival. This was the 
name preferred by President Franklin D. 
Roosevelt, who strongly suggested it 
during an April 1942 press conference. 
He had selected it from the thousands 
of suggested names sent to him at the 
White House. 

The War of Deliverance. 

The War of Democracy. 

The War of Freedom. 

The War of Individual Liberty. 

The War of Liberation. 

The War of Liberty. 

The War of the Ages. 

The War of the People. 

wound chevron. A small Army uni- 
form stripe worn on the lower part of the 

right sleeve to show that the G.I. wearing 
it had been wounded. 

wreck. An airplane, especially one that 
has seen action. 

writ. A written examination. 

• -tr Y * * 

yardbird. A buck private; a new 

year and a bob / year and a kick. A 

punishment of one year's confinement 
and a dishonorable discharge. 

yearling. A recruit; a selectee. 

Yehudi. See gremlin 

yellow ticket. A dishonorable dis- 
charge; from the color of the paper on 
which it was printed. 

yeoette / yeomanette / yeowoman. A 

female clerk employed by the Depart- 
ment of the Navy. 

Y gun. A depth-charge or bomb 

yimca. The Y.M.C.A. 

you're gigged. You have been reported 
for violating a rule or regulation. (A gig 
is a demerit.) 

• ir 2 * * 

zebra. (1) A noncom with multiple 
stripes, or chevrons. (2) A cadet officer 
in the Army Air Corps. 

zepp. A zeppelin (i.e., a dirigible air- 
ship of rigid type); named after Ferdi- 
nand von Zeppelin. 

Zero. A Japanese navy fighter plane. It 
was highly maneuverable and had a top 
speed of 340 miles per hour. 

zero a bun. To set one's gun sights. 

zero-zero. (1) Range is point-blank. (2) 
Visibility zero, ceiling zero. 

zombie. A soldier falling in the lowest 
category in the Army classification test. 

zoom. A brief, rapid climb after flying 
low at full speed. One zooms at an angle 
steeper than one would achieve in nor- 
mal flight. 

232 • WAR SLANG 

Sources and Acknowledgments 

Every once in a while an apprentice lexicographer gets real, real lucky and bumps into a bona 
fide Rosetta stone. I did with the prime source used in this chapter, which is a manuscript 
entitled Words of the Fighting Forces. Actually, its full title is Words of the Fighting Forces (A 
Lexicon of Military Terms; Phrases & Terms of Argot, Cant, /argon S- Slang Used by the Armed 
Forces of the United States of America.) It was researched, compiled, and arranged by Clin- 
ton A. Sanders and Joseph W. Blackwell, Jr., and completed in September 1942, presumably 
to be of use while the war was ongoing. It was prepared under the auspices of the Language 
Section of the Military Intelligence Service, G-2, War Department General Staff, located in the 
Whitehall Building on Battery Place in New York. 

The work appears in four typewritten volumes and the original 495-page typescript was 
located in the Pentagon Library. It does not appear in other card catalogs, bibliographies, and 
books on World War II and shows no signs of ever having been published. It is quite likely that 
the copy in the Pentagon is the only copy in existence. 

To say that this is a major discovery is not to overstate the case. It is a first-rate compilation 
created during the War, apparently for the use of a small group of officers. As it has never been 
exposed to public view — either directly or by adaptation — it is worth giving some details on 
it, beginning with this dedication: 

"Words of the Fighting Forces is dedicated to the fighting men of our forces on land, sea, 
and in the air. 

And moving to this disclaimer: 

"This compilation is offered to the United States War Department without fee or reward, 
obligation or legal responsibilities, as a contribution to the war effort." 

An introduction explains the book, its intent, and the people who helped get it put to- 
gether — including a most interesting sponsor. It is quoted here in its entirety. 


Words of the Fighting Forces is a dictionary of military lingo, specialized language, argot, cant, 
jargon, and slang used by American fighting men, including a supplement of military terms. We 
hope that this shall not be classed as "just another slang dictionary," but a volume characteristic in 
general design, profitableness to some valuable end, a scholarly preparation and up-to-date informa- 
tion and accuracy. In this volume it will be found that both the English spellings in common usage 
in the United States and conventional English spellings are recognized. 

Specialists have been located who have generously donated large blocks of terms. 

Terms which are found to overlap in one branch of the service running into another have been 
classified as general usage and are not listed with a classification code. Terms which have distinctive 
meaning and belong to a particular branch of the service have been listed with a classification code. 

There are terms appearing herein that will no doubt "shock" the clergy, appeaser, isolationist, 
and puritan. We offer no apology nor have we deleted a term or terms because of what we feared 
such a group would do or say. These terms are part of a picturesque and living language of men 
who live close to earth and closer to death, words of men who fight the battles of free men for our 


America and her Allies on remote and distant battlefields, who man our ships in dangerous seas, 
and fight up there on high. 

We, the editors, have spent many enjoyable years in the compilation of this work. Our contacts 
with hundreds interested in this type of language and study have brought us friendships that we 
trust shall not die with the years. We're indebted to a hundred persons, many of them learned in 
the linguistic science and military arts, the majority "lay brothers" as we. We are, in particular, 
indebted to our sponsor, H. L. Mencken; to Dr. David W. Maurer, who has always been generous 
and wise in his advice; to Dr. Earl G. Swem, who has furnished the editors with books and historical 
data; to Walter Winchell, who so kindly gave us permission to quote from his large files and edito- 
rials; to Jim Tully, who suggested the compilation of this and other works. The aforesaid friends are 
not responsible, of course, for anything that appears herein. 

All additions and corrections will be appreciated, and correspondence regarding same should be 
addressed to Lt. Col. Arthur Vollmer, Director, Military Intelligence Language-Section, 420 Whitehall 
Bldg., New York, New York. 

J.W.B. Jr. 

Richmond, Virginia. 
September 1942. 

Numerous other sources were used. A. Marjorie Taylor's The Language of World War II 
(New York: H. W. Wilson, 2d ed. 1948) was a most important source for this chapter and still 
ranks as the most important published work on the language (slang as well as official terminol- 
ogy) of World War II from an American perspective. 

Other sources consulted for this chapter include: Army Talk by Elbridge Colby, Princeton 
University Press, 1942; The American Language (and supplements) by H. L. Mencken, Alfred 
Knopf; A Dictionary of Forces Slang, 1948, edited by Eric Partridge, Books for Libraries Press, 
1970; Dictionary of American Slang by Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, Thomas Y. 
Crowell, 1960; The G.I.'s: The Americans in Britain 1942-1945 by Norman Longmate, Hutchin- 
son, London; and Words: The New Dictionary, by Charles P. Chadsey, William Morris, and 
Harold Wentworth, Grosset and Dunlap, 1946. 

Word Studies, a periodical publication of G. & C. Merriam Company of Springfield, Mass., 
which was published through the war years, provided many important short articles on the 
slang of World War II, including these: 

Herzbert, Pvt. Richard A., "Army Slang," April 1943. 

Kallich, Martin, "World War II Slang," May 1943. 

"War Vocabulary Study Unit," a glossary compiled from news reports by the Ninth-Year 
English Class of Scarborough High School, Scarborough, New York, April 1944. 

Several short unsigned items: "W.A.C. Words" (October 1944); "Postwar War Words" (Febru- 
ary 1947). 

Charles D. Poe unearthed many, many sources, citations, and connections; Bob Skole (who 
rode liberated Imperial Guard horses with the Eighth Cavalry Regiment in occupied Japan) 
helped with many suggestions and references; and the Tamony Collection provided many 
important citations. I also used a number of ephemeral sources including ads (Camel cigarettes 
ran a series of ads based on service slang), postcards, and base newspapers. 





A Few Words from World War 2'A 

It was the first modern crisis of the superpowers, and it was as brutal and 
bloody as any other war, despite the fact that the President and the press 
called it a "police action" and the troops saw it as a frozen hell. 

To a large degree the slang of Korea was the slang of World War II, which 
can be explained by the fact that many of the Americans fighting this war were 
over the age of twenty-one and had served — though not necessarily fought — at 
the end of World War II. In 1952 Bill Mauldin sent a series of dispatches from 
Korea in which readers were told of Navy pilots returning to their carrier "to 
see the sun bouncing off so many bald heads." He added, "A pretty big chunk 
of this war is being fought by guys who carry pockets full of pictures of 
their wives and kids while they bounce on the deck in an airplane shot full 
of holes." 

But there were also linguistic differences — new slang created by new tech- 
nology (this was the first war in which jet fighters and helicopters were used), 
a new (communist) enemy, and a new (Korean) culture. American soldiers 
were fighting alongside South Koreans who were being fed into their units. 
The South Koreans were known individually and collectively as KATUSA 
(Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army), and each man was paired with an 
American "buddy." The linguistic result was described by Neil Sheehan in 


A Bright Shining Lie (1988): "The Army in Korea had developed a pidgin of 
English, Korean, and Japanese." 

In addition, new slang terms developed around the participation of many 
nations in the U.N. forces (in support of South Korea) and of the Chinese 
communists (in support of North Korea). 

Meanwhile the official language of the military bureaucracy was becoming 
ever more bureaucratic. Everything seemed to have an official initialism or 
acronym. It was argued that a lot of time was saved by the Navy's saying or 
writing "D.R." instead of "dental recruit" or by the Army officially deeming 
someone a "RE." rather than having to spend a lot of time saying that he was 
a "pistol expert." By 1952, officers in the medical reserve were either MORCs 
(Medical Officer Reserve Corps) or DORCs (Dental Officer Reserve Corps). The 
war also gave us MASH (mobile army surgical hospital) units. 

Stiff-sounding prefixes and suffixes were in vogue, so military terms like 
"detrain" and "detruck" almost immediately begat terms like "detraining 
point" and "detrucking point." The trend was noted in an October 1951 article 
in Reader's Digest: "The Pentagon vocabulary closely resembles plain English, 
but must be learned. 'Implement' means do, 'formalize' means write it down." 

• it A * * 

Abdul. Any Turkish soldier in the 
U.N. forces. 

aggressor republic. The supposed to- 
talitarian force that the U.S. had been 
practicing against in exercises since the 
end of World War II. North Korea fit the 

accordion war. A war of give and take, 
involving lines that one could not cross. 
Here is an example from Joseph C. Goul- 
den's Korea: The Untold Story of the War 
(1982): "So MacArthur began sniping at 
Ridgway and his 'accordion war.' " 

aggie. A native Korean youngster. 
"Originally," writes Ralph Reppert in his 
feature on Korean War slang in the June 
24, 1951, Baltimore Sun, "it was applied 
only to the little Korean girls who came 
around to beg food from the mess ser- 
geants, but its use soon expanded to 
cover all native children." 

air strike. A bombing attack. Writes 
Martin Russ in The Last Parallel (1957): 
"Propeller-driven planes of the First Ma- 
rine Air Wing fly sorties over enemy po- 
sitions every day. These missions are 
called 'air strikes.' Hill Detroit received 
an air strike last week." 

Angry Nine. The AN/GR-9 radio. It 
took up the entire backseat section of a 
jeep. Keeping its batteries charged was 
rough on the motor of the jeep, but it 
could transmit and receive over very 
long distances. 

236 • WAR SLANG 

Ashcan City. ASCOM (Army Service 
Command) City, a processing center for 
Army personnel, located at Inchon, 
South Korea. 

auger in. To crash an airplane. The 
term was especially apropos of jet 
planes, which drill into the earth when 
they crash. As in other wars, pilots su- 
perstitiously avoided using the word 

B * * 

badlands. Korea. The allusion is to the 
savagely eroded, grassless, waterless 
areas of the western U.S. The terrain is 
described in A Dictionary of Soldier 
Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, 
and Ernest Deal: "At that time reputed 
to be the only place on earth where one 
could stand neck-deep in mud in a mid- 
winter downpour and have dust blowing 
into one's eyes. It was rough, folks. 
What's more, our air mattress sprang a 

bali bali. Same as 
under World War II). 


bamboo curtain. Communist China's 
"iron curtain." The term was coined by 
Time in 1949. 

B&B. Booze and broads; a play on the 
official r&r. 

Bean Patch. A Marine bivouac area 
near Masan. It had literally been a bean- 
growing area. 

bean rag. The Navy's meal pennant (a 
signal showing that the crew is at mess). 

bed-check Charlie. A night-bombing 
enemy aircraft. As Robert Leckie points 
out in The Wars of America, vol. II 
(1968), these night raiders in prop planes 
did little damage, but they did affect the 
morale of the ground troops. The name 
may have been patterned on washing- 
machine charlie (see under World War 

Big Eight. The most important Ameri- 
can military prison in Japan, located 
near Yokohama. It was first used during 
the occupation of Japan after World 
War II. 

big pickle. The atomic bomb. 

big R. Rotation home; the rotation sys- 
tem itself. Rotation was terribly im- 
portant in Korea: front-line soldiers were 
able to go home in nine months, rather 
than the eighteen of World War II. 

bird. A guided missile; an aircraft. 

blast furnace. A jet aircraft. This is 
one of a number of terms for jet aircraft 
that derive from the power with which 
their engines expel jets of burning fuel. 
Other names included "blow job," 
"blow-torch," "can," "firecan," "flame- 
thrower," "flute," "jet," "jet job," "pipe," 
"speed burner," "squirt," and "squirt 

bloodmobile. A blood bank in a truck. 

blow job / blowtorch. A jet aircraft. 


boondockers. Combat boots or field 

bounce. An attack on an enemy air- 

boysun. A Korean boy. 

brain bucket. A pilot's crash helmet. 

brain-washee. One who has been 

brainwashing. Systematic indoctrina- 
tion used to change a person's way of 
thinking; specifically, the intensive inter- 
rogation and indoctrination procedures 
used by the North Koreans and Chinese 
to persuade allied prisoners to change 
their allegiances. Here is a headline from 
the April 29, 1953, San Francisco Exam- 
iner: '"Brain- Washed' POWs Will Re- 
ceive Mental Treatment." See also 



The term "brainwashing" first appeared 
in print on September 24, 1950, in the 
Miami Daily News, in an article by Ed- 
ward Hunter. Hunter's book Brain- 
Washing in Red China ( 1 95 1 ) covered the 
communists' use of propaganda and in- 

After the war, the term gradually 
came to refer to any change of opinion; 
for instance, a friend who changed po- 
litical parties might have been said to 
have been brainwashed by the Repub- 

However, the more sinister sense of 
the term, as a form of psychological 
warfare, made a return at the begin- 
ning of the U.S. involvement in Viet- 
nam. An article in the San Francisco 

Chronicle of December 6, 1965, began 
with these two paragraphs: 

The spectre of Americans being insidi- 
ously and irresistibly brainwashed by 
cunning Communists is back amongst 

Two American soldiers released by 
the Viet Cong last week made anti-war 
statements and promised to work for an 
American pulloutfrom Vietnam. "I'd say 
they've been brainwashed," snapped 
Marine Corps Commandant Wallace 

B.T.O. Big-time operator. 

Buck Private. A light (200-pound) ex- 
perimental Air Force helicopter. 

buddy system. The arrangement under 
which South Korean soldiers were incor- 
porated into U.S. units. Robert Leckie 
writes in The Wars of America, vol. II 
(1968): "The Koreans were paired off 
with Americans who were supposed to 
give them on-the-job training in the sol- 
dier's craft. . . . Because of obvious dif- 
ferences in language, temperament and 
customs, it was never much of a suc- 
cess." See also katusa. 

buffalo gun. A .57-caliber antitank 
gun. This large weapon was named for 
the heavy rifles used in the Old West to 
kill buffalo. 

bug out. (1) To leave in a hurry; to re- 
treat; to play the coward. Ralph Reppert, 
writing in the Baltimore Sun in 1951, 
noted: '"Bug out' came into use briefly 
during World War II, but not until the 
Korean war did it gain wide usage." Life 
reported that the term was used "many 
thousands of times a day." 

238 • WAR SLANG 

(2) An act of desertion. Here is how 
the term is used in The United States in 
the Korean War (1964), by Don Lawson: 
"In these 'bug-outs' the men sometimes 
threw away their weapons without firing 
a shot." 

(3) An exit; a way out. Martin Russ 
writes in The Last Parallel (1957): "If the 
feces really hits the fan, there are three 
points through which a man can run for 
the hills — rear exits in the trenches 
called 'bug outs.'" 

(4) To fly an aircraft away quickly from 
an endangered area. 

"Bugout Boogie" / "Bugout Blues." 

Alternative titles for "Moving On," a 
popular song by country singer Hank 
Snow, which became an anthem of the 
war. According to A Dictionary of Sol- 
dier Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, Dan 
Cragg, and Ernest Deal, the title was 
credited "to the US 2d Infantry Division, 
commemorating its rout at Kunuri in No- 
vember 1950. Officially proscribed, but 
still sung, it has the catchy refrain 'We're 
buggin' out, We're movin' on!'" 

Joseph C. Goulden wrote in Korea: The 
Untold Story of the War (1982) that the 
appearance of a 24th Regiment patch on 
a soldier's sleeve would bring jeers and 
sometimes the lyrics of "Bugout Boogie," 
because "the 24th Regiment never over- 
came its reputation as a 'bugout' unit." 

The title "Bugout Blues" (almost cer- 
tainly another name for the same song) 
appears in this excerpt from Robert 
Leckie's The Wars of America, vol. II 
(1968): '"Bugging out,' a phrase describ- 
ing unseemly and precipitate flight, was 
already a battlefield cliche, and one regi- 
ment had already adopted 'Bugout Blues' 
as its theme song." 

bugout gas. Gasoline reserved for the 
possibility of a hasty retreat. 

bunny hole. A place within a fighting 
hole or foxhole where one could huddle 
during a mortar attack. It amounts to a 
cave dug at the bottom of a trench. 

burp gun. A type of Chinese machine 
gun; from its sound. 

buttoned up. Said of a tank that is 
sealed off from the outside with its 
hatches locked down. 

butt stroke. A blow with the butt end 
of a rifle stock in hand-to-hand combat. 

buy the farm. To die; to be killed. In 
Soldier Talk (1982), Frank A. Hailey, a 
veteran of World War II, Korea, and Viet- 
nam, says that this term was coined by 
Americans during the Korean War, with 
the same meaning as "buy it," which was 
borrowed from the British during World 
War II and used during the Vietnam War. 

Other evidence supports Hailey. In an 
article in Life of September 26, 1955, Bill 
Mauldin reports on the slang at the Air 
Force Academy: "to 'buy a farm' is to 

Peter Tamony notes that "buy the 
farm" is an extension of "buy it" (dating 
back to the R.A.F and World War II), but 
that the addition of the word "farm" was 
purely American. He theorizes that 
American training bases were in rural 
areas and that farmers were known to sue 
the government for huge sums of money 
after a crash on their land. 

* a C * * 

carrier pigeon. A Korean who carried 
messages when radio silence was being 

chair corps. Servicemen in noncombat 
jobs. The following item appeared in the 
San Francisco Examiner on July 29, 


Washington, July 28 — A new move to re- 
duce the armed services' "chair corps" and 
thus increase the number of fighting men 
was announced today by a Senate prepar- 
edness subcommittee. 

Chairman Lyndon Johnson, Democrat of 
Texas, said his "watchdog defense group" 
is sending investigators to twenty "ad- 
vanced training centers" of the Army, Air 
Force, Navy and Marines to check on use 
of personnel. 

Military term — The "chair corps" term is 
used for military personnel assigned to 
duty as instructors, clerks, automobile 
drivers, telephone operators, or similar 

Earlier this year on-the-spot visits to six- 
teen basic training centers by the prepared- 
ness subcommittee disclosed thousands of 
uniformed men, qualified for combat, as- 
signed to these jobs. 

chicken / chickenshit. Petty. 

Chicom. Chinese communist. The term 
was used especially to refer to the "vol- 
unteers" fighting against the U.N. forces 
in Korea. It was used as much in head- 
quarters as by the troops and had little 
civilian use before April 27, 1955, when 
President Dwight D. Eisenhower used it 
in a press conference. The next day The 
New York Times carried a small explana- 


tory item headlined: "President's Chi- 
coms is Chinese Communists." Some 
who didn't know of its broad use in 
Korea thought it was an Ike coinage. 

Chinat. Chinese nationalist. The term 
referred to the noncommunist Chinese 
living on the island of Formosa (present- 
day Taiwan). 

chogie [pronounced "show-ghee"]. (1) 
To bring; to carry (specifically, on one's 
back on an A-frame carrier). (2) Go! 
Move! According to Frank A. Hailey, in 
Soldier Talk (1982), it was: "A favorite 
saying among soldiers who served in 
Korea before, during, and after the Ko- 
rean War." (3) A landmark, especially a 
hill. (4) A Korean laborer. 

chop-chop. To eat. In World War II and 
in Korea "chop-chop" meant "hurry up," 
but it took on this additional meaning in 
Korea. In Dictionary of American Slang 
(1960), Harold Wentworth and Stuart 
Berg Flexner suggest that this meaning 
may derive from a reduplication of the 
verb "chop" (to cut or slice). 

chopper. A helicopter. 

circuit-riding chaplain. A chaplain 
who went from ship to ship via heli- 

clamp down. To sprinkle and swab 
down a deck. 

clank / clank up. To become nervous 
or agitated. 

clobber. (1) To attack a ground target 
from the air. (2) To defeat decisively. 

240 * WAR SLANG 

clue in. To give information (as in, "I'll 
clue you in on this one"). 

clutch platoon. A replacement pla- 
toon; akin to the clutch hitter in baseball 
who is brought in to pinch-hit. 

cold-weather team. A group assem- 
bled in Korea to teach others how to sur- 
vive in subzero conditions. 

combat fatigue. See shell shock, 
under World War I. See also crack up 
and shook. 

compound. A walled enclosure con- 
taining living quarters, offices, and/or 
storehouses. According to A Dictionary 
of Soldier Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, 
Dan Cragg, and Ernest Deal: "In Korea 
and Vietnam such installations were 
often garrisoned and fortified. From Ma- 
lay kampong, 'a cluster of buildings.' The 
term was occasionally used by old China 
hands before World War II, but did not 
come into general use until the Viet- 
nam War." 

copter. A helicopter. 

cowboy-and-lndian tactics. Close com- 
bat; hand-to-hand fighting. Perhaps the 
popularity of movie and television west- 
erns, which hit with full force in the 
1950s, led to this war having a number 
of terms with roots in the Old West. 
Korea itself was nicknamed the bad- 

crack up. shell shock. A September 5, 
1950, dispatch by Jerry Thorp contained 
this interchange: 

The tall blond corporal sat down beside 
me and said he'd like to talk awhile. 

"I'm out of there for a few days, thank 
God," he said. "They call it combat fatigue. 
Combat fatigue, hell, I cracked up." 

See also shook. 

Crybaby Division. The 40th California 
National Guard Division. In About Face 
(1989), by David H. Hackworth, the divi- 
sion is referred to as a "sorry, undisci- 
plined, ineffective fighting force." 

cuta chogie. To fall out (i.e., break 

cutta cutta. To go away. 

• a D * * 

Daniel Boone cap. Cold-weather head- 

debbie chon. An overweight G.I.; from 
the Korean term for fat soldiers. 

deep kimchi / deep kimshi. "Deep 
shit" (i.e., serious trouble; as in, "I'm in 
deep kimchi now"). Kimchi is a tradi- 
tional Korean cabbage dish (see also kim- 
chi). The phrase survives to the present 
day and is found in many novels about 
the military, as in this excerpt from The 
Warbirds (1989), by Richard Herman, Jr.: 
"We'll be in deep kimshi with Sundown 
if we lose another bird." Herman adds in 
a 1992 letter, "Being in 'Deep Kimshi' is 
indeed 'Bad Juju' (Black Magic)." 

The expression is discussed in A Dic- 
tionary of Soldier Talk (1984), by John 
R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest Deal: 
"Widely used in Korea by Americans sta- 
tioned there, Korea service veterans, and 
the general Army population, which has 


picked up the expression by diffusion. 
The expression is reinforced by the al- 
most universal American dislike for 

demoth. To take out of mothballs (i.e., 
to bring World War II vehicles, ships, and 
equipment back into service). 

die for a tie. An expression used by 
soldiers who agreed with General Doug- 
las MacArthur that they were fighting for 
a stalemate ("tie" in the sense of a tie 
game in sports). In Joseph C. Goulden's 
Korea: The Untold Story of the War 
(1982), this phrase is used to allude to a 
MacArthur speech that became known 
as his "die for a tie speech." 

dink. A dinghy or other small boat. See 
also under the Vietnam War, in which 
the term was used derisively. 

D.M.Z. Demilitarized zone. In this war, 
the D.M.Z. was a cleared area on either 
side of the 38th parallel, the line separat- 
ing Noijth Korea and South Korea. See 
also under the Vietnam War. 

don't panic. Play it cool. 

dough. A doughboy (see under World 
War I). This short form for "soldier" ap- 
peared in constructions like "squad of 
doughs" and "company of doughs." 

D.O.W. Died of wounds. 

* * E 4 .* 

E&E. Evasion and escape. This was the 
name given to the tactics used by 

downed pilots in getting back to 
friendly territory. 

egg beater. A helicopter. 

eyeball to eyeball. To be in close con- 
tact with the enemy. In On Language 
(1980) William Safire poses this ety- 

Where did it come from? According to 
General Harold Johnson, Army Chief of 
Staff in the mid-60's, the phrase originated 
in the military and is a contribution of 
black English. The 24th Infantry Regiment, 
before integration in the armed services, 
was all black; in November 1950 it bore the 
brunt of a counterattack in Korea. When 
General MacArthur's headquarters sent an 
inquiry to the 24th regiment — "Do you 
have contact with the enemy?" — the reply, 
widely reported at the time, was "We is 
eyeball to eyeball." 

• £ F ir • 

fenced-in war. The air war in Korea 
(because there were lines that could not 
be crossed — e.g., the Yalu River). Al- 
though the ground war could also be 
seen as fenced in, this term was rarely 
used to describe it. 

figmo. Fuck it, got my orders. There was 
no polite translation of this term, so 
those reporting on the slang of Korea 
were constrained to write absurdities, 
like this one from the San Francisco Ex- 
aminer of June 2, 1957: "'Figmo' unques- 
tionably had a good reason for being 
coined, but no one now in Korea seems 
to remember what it was." 

figmo chart, a piece of paper or card- 
board on which a man kept a record of 

242 • WAR SLANG 

the number of days he had left until rota- 
tion. Some troopers used a "figmo stick," 
which was a stick marked with the num- 
ber of days remaining until rotation. A 
soldier would slice off a piece with the 
passing of each day. 

firecan. A jet aircraft. 

first shirt. A first sergeant. 

5-in-l ration. A balanced ration for 
troops in the field. It was introduced in 
World War II and reintroduced in Korea 
and sometimes supplied to men who 
had no ability to heat it up — the 5-in-l 
ration was popular when served hot, but 
unacceptable when cold. 

flame thrower. A jet aircraft. 

flap. A description of the war. Many 
people did not see the conflict as an all- 
out war, but found it hard to use the offi- 
cial term, "police action." Curtis LeMay 
used the word "flap" in Mission with 
LeMay (1965): "I suggested informally, 
when the Korean flap started in 1950, 
that we go up north immediately with 
incendiaries and delete four or five of the 
largest towns: Wonsan, Pyongyang and 
so on." 

At about the time of the French stand 
at Dien Bien Phu (1954), some Ameri- 
cans referred to that conflict as "the In- 
dochina flap." 

flute. A jet aircraft (because the sound 
comes out of a pipe). 

fogey / fogy. An increase in pay for 
length of service (because one had to be 
on the way to becoming an old fogy be- 
fore qualifying). 

forgotten war. The Korean conflict. 
The term is still used to underscore the 
fact that 54,246 Americans died in a war 
that the nation seemed not to focus on, 
even while it was being fought. 

friendlies. South Korean troops. 

Frozen Chosin. (1) The Chosin reser- 
voir area during the allied retreat in the 
disastrous winter of 1950-51. The word 
"frozen" was not lightly employed, as is 
evidenced by this excerpt from Joseph C. 
Goulden's Korea: The Untold Story of 
the War (1982): 

When the fighters bivouacked in snow- 
covered ground during combat, their feet, 
socks and hands were frozen together in 
one ice ball; they could not unscrew the 
caps on the hand grenades; the fuses 
would not ignite; the hands were not sup- 
ple; the mortar tubes shrank on account of 
the cold; seventy percent of the shells 
failed to detonate; skin from the hands was 
stuck on the shells and mortar tubes. 

(2) Korea in general. Chosin (or Cho- 
sun) is the ancient name for Korea. The 
term means "land of the morning calm." 

• ft 

G * * 

gadget. The atomic bomb. The term 
was used by military planners from the 
end of World War II through the Korean 
War period. 

galley yarn. A rumor (i.e., a story that 
originates — metaphorically or actually — 
in a ship's kitchen, or galley). 

gargoyle. An unkempt pilot. 

geographical bachelor. A man who, 
figuratively speaking, became unmarried 


once he left the States. The term was also 
applied to men at stateside military 
bases if they were a long way from home. 
Geographical bachelors, as one writer 
put it, were the ones who took off their 
wedding bands for the duration. 

germ warfare. Biological warfare. 
North Korea insisted the U.N. forces were 
guilty of this war crime. 

G.I. An American soldier. This term 
was still used in Korea despite an at- 
tempt by the Defense Department to 
suppress it. A June 1951 Defense Depart- 
ment bulletin sent to all Army public re- 
lations officers worldwide barred them 
from using the term: "In recognition of 
the dignity of the fighting man and the 
traditions of his service to America, 
Army public relations officers should 
make no further use of the slang expres- 
sion 'G.I.' " The bulletin went on to state 
that the proper name for a soldier was 

girdle. A suit worn by aviators to 
counter g-forces. 

gohong. Food. Ralph Reppert wrote 
about the term in the Baltimore Sun in 
1951: "Gohong is one Korean word for 
rice. American soldiers used the word 
correctly for a while, then began ap- 
plying it to all food. Now it's synony- 
mous with all chow." 

golfball. A tracer bullet (see under 
World War II). 

go mental. To be shook. 

goof off. (1) To blunder; to kill time. (2) 
A chronic blunderer. 

gook. A Korean. Ralph Reppert wrote 
about the term in the Baltimore Sun in 
1951: "Probably the most widely used 
slang term of this war. . . . Now it is the 
popular term for any native, soldier or 
civilian; allied or belligerent. The word 
is even heard in the States, used by garri- 
son soldiers to indicate residents of the 
nearest town." 

The term has a long history. It was 
used during the Spanish-American War 
era to refer to Filipinos; during World 
War II, it meant a nonfighting native of 
the islands of the South Pacific; and in 
the Vietnam War, it referred to a native 
Southeast Asian (mainly, of course, the 
Vietnamese). In all these uses, it was a 
racist slur. 

goony. A Chinese communist soldier. 
The word probably derives from "goon" 
(a hoodlum or thug). 

goony land. Communist China. As Mar- 
tin Russ explains in The Last Parallel 
(1957), the term had a special meaning 
for the Marines: "It's a small point, but 
the word "goonyland' has a kind of spe- 
cial meaning to us. Like Toyland of a de- 
partment store, it suggests something 
innocent and — as much as I hate the 
word — cute." 

green-apple quick-step. Dysentery; 
an allusion to the fact that green apples 
can cause severe stomachaches and diar- 
rhea, making one step quickly to the la- 

gung ho. Overzealous; driven. During 
World War II, the term had only positive 
connotations, but not in Korea, as can be 
seen in this excerpt from "A Marine 
Tells His Father What Korea Is Really 

244 * WAR SLANG 

Like," by John W. Harper, which ap- 
peared in Life of December 3, 1951: "We 
expect to be able to rest, reorganize and 
prepare ourselves for the assault the next 
morning — but no. Someone got gung-ho 
and decided to jump us off as soon as 
possible assuming an understrength 
company could make a mile and a half 
advance in one hour of daylight!" 

Here is another example, from a letter 
by Bill Martin in the San Francisco Call- 
Bulletin of December 11, 1950: "We've 
been catching hell for the last three days. 
You have no idea of the hell it has been 
for us. . . . Doesn't look like we are ever 
going to be relieved from up here. Did 
anyone say anything about Gung Ho? I'll 
trade places. So long, fellows." 

See also under World War II. 


had it. Defeated (as in, "We've had it. 
We're finished."). "Had it" was first heard 
in Europe at the end of WWII, but came 
into its own in Korea. 

hava-no. I haven't got it. 

hava-yes. I've got it. 

Hawaiian Mafia. The 27th Infantry 
Regiment (because a large number of Ha- 
waiians were in the unit). See also wolf- 

Heartbreak Ridge. An objective that 
fell to U.N. troops after thirty-seven days 
of fierce combat. 

heavy. A big machine gun. 

hei-hei [pronounced "high-high"]. A 

black G.I. (as referred to by Chinese com- 
munist and North Korean troops). 

helitrooper. A soldier who parachutes 
into battle from a helicopter. 

hero gear. Battle souvenirs. 

Hey, Kim. An expression used to ad- 
dress South Korean soldiers. Ralph Rep- 
pert wrote about it in the Baltimore Sun 
of June 24, 1951: "South Korean soldiers 
resent the term [gook]. They prefer to be 
called Roks (Republic of Korea). They 
also like to be addressed, 'Hey, Kim,' in 
the same tone that one G.I. hails another 
with 'Hey, Mac' or 'Hey, Joe.'" Kim is a 
common Korean name. 

hit the deck. To wake up and get out 
of bed. 

hit the sack. To go to bed. 

hog pilot. A pilot who flies the F-84G 
Republic Thunderjet (or Hog). 

home by Christmas. A phrase used by 
those who foresaw a quick resolution of 
the war. The phrase and the frustration 
it represented became emblematic of the 
conflict. It first came into play early in 
the war. On November 24, 1950, General 
Douglas MacArthur launched an offen- 
sive against North Korea and made this 
statement to one of his commanders: 
"Tell the boys for me that when they 
reach the Yalu, they are going home. I 
want to make good my statement that 
they are going to eat their Christmas din- 
ner at home." A day later U.S. troops 
were fighting Chinese troops. 

homer. A weapon with a homing (tar- 
get-seeking) device. 


honcho. A leader; a man in charge. This 
term derives from the Japanese han 
("squad") + cho ("leader"). Stuart Berg 
Flexner, in I Hear America Talking 
(1976), reports that the term means liter- 
ally "squad leader" (a corporal or ser- 
geant). A common definition given 
during the war was "number-one man," 
suggesting the Japanese lineage. The 
term soon became part of general Ameri- 
can slang. 

honey bucket detail. The men as- 
signed to emptying buckets of latrine 

hooch / hoochie. (1) A bunker; other 
front-line living quarters. (2) The dwell- 
ing of a prostitute; any place where an 
American serviceman set up housekeep- 
ing with a Korean woman. (3) Any 

The word "hooch" derives from the 
Japanese uchi ("house"). There is no 
connection with the slang term "hooch" 
for liquor, which derives from the 
Chinook hoochenoo (a homemade li- 
quor). The term was used during the 
Vietnam War, too. 

horde. Chinese communist or North 
Korean troops. 

Horde Knocks 

The overuse of the term "horde" during 
the war was something of a joke. Nel- 
son DeMille writes of it in By the Rivers 
of Babylon (1978): 'That had been an 
American infantryman's joke during the 
Korean War. A Chinese squad was 
made up of three hordes and a mob." 
Robert Leckie, in The Wars of America, 
vol. II (1968), repeats a rifleman's quip: 
"I was attacked by two hordes, sir, and 
I killed them both." 

In William B. Hopkins's One 8ug/e No 
Drums (1986), the gag line is: "Hey! 
How many Chinese hordes are there in 
one platoon?" 

Here is how the term is discussed in 
A Dictionary of Soldier Talk, by John R. 
Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest Deal 


One or more North Joes or Chicoms. Al- 
though the Communists did employ 
massed infantry assaults at what they 
considered decisive points, most of their 
attacks were small-scale affairs, 
shrewdly directed at the flank or rear of 
a UN position. It is an ancient axiom, 
followed by all armies, that it is safer to 
tell higher headquarters that you were 
outnumbered than that you were out- 

hose down. To shoot down an enemy 

hot pursuit. The chasing of an enemy 
aircraft. American pilots were forbidden 
to cross the Yalu River in hot pursuit of 
enemy airplanes on their way to bases 
in Manchuria. 

hot war. Police action in Korea, used to 
differentiate it from the Cold War. 

human sea. Enemy troops attacking in 
waves. In The United States in the Ko- 
rean War (1964), Don Lawson writes: 
"The North Korean 'Human Sea' attacks 
were also new to the G.I.'s — new and 
frightening." See also red tide. 

hyakoo. Hurry up; pretty soon. This 
term, like many other linguistic crea- 
tions of the war, derives from the Japa- 
nese, a fact explained by the amount of 
time G.I.'s spent in Japan for rest and re- 

246 • WAR SLANG 

• it | * • 

l&l. Intercourse and intoxication; a play 

on R&R. 

ichiban. The best; from the Japanese 
ichiban ("number one"). 

idewa [pronounced "ee-dee-wa"). Come 
here; from the Japanese. Here is how the 
term is discussed in A Dictionary of Sol- 
dier Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, Dan 
Cragg, and Ernest Deal: "The derivation 
of the expression is obscure. Most 
sources regard it as of Korean origin, but 
no comparable Korean form has been 
found. In all probability, it is pidgin Japa- 
nese, a corruption of o-ide nasai 'come 
here,' in which nasai has been dropped 
and the nominative particle wa has (in- 
correctly) been added in its place." 

idiot board. A Korean A-frame pack 
board used for carrying supplies in areas 
accessible only on foot or by mules. They 
were used by South Koreans to provision 
American troops in the field. According 
to A Dictionary of Soldier Talk (1984), 
by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest 
Deal: "Where there is shooting to be 
done, no squad, platoon, or company 
commander is going to detail his best 
and brightest to run up and down the 
ridge lines carrying resupplies of ammo, 
food, and water." See also Korean 


Iron Triangle. A daunting defensive 
area on the central front regarded by U.N. 
forces as a major North Korean assembly 
base and industrial complex. It lay be- 
tween Pyongyang to the north, Chorwon 
to the west, and Kumhwa to the east. 

it only takes one to kill you. A phrase 
known as the "rifleman's creed"; a refer- 
ence to the fact that it made no differ- 
ence if you were killed by a sniper or by 
an artillery shell. 

• * J it * 

jay pee / J.P. Jet propulsion, as opposed 
to conventional propeller power (as in, 
"That plane's on jaypee"). 

jerkoff lotion. Jergen's hand lotion. 
Soldiers often requested this product 
from home to relieve cracking and sore- 
ness from the bitter cold. Clearly, it also 
found other uses. 

jet ace. A jet fighter pilot with five or 
more enemy kills. The first was James Ja- 
bara, a World War II ace. 

jet-jeep. The XH-26 helicopter. 

jet job. A jet aircraft. 

jet jockey. A jet fighter pilot. 

jettie. A jet engine. 

jerwash. The violent air behind a jet 
airplane; the backwash from a jet engine. 

juice. Jet fuel. 

jump sack. A parachute. 

• it K * * 

KATUSA. Korean Augmentation to the 
U.S. Army. The term referred, individu- 


ally and collectively, to the South Kore- 
ans integrated into American Army 
units. In some rifle squads, half the 
troops were KATUSA. 

Here is how the term is discussed in 
A Dictionary of Soldier Talk (1984), by 
John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest 

Originally, in 1950, as a desperation 
measure, thousands of Korean civilians, 
ignorant of military life and the English 
language, were hastily drafted into under- 
strength American units. Many of them 
were refugees, half-starved and sick. Gen- 
erally, they could be used only for work 
details. This term has since been used for 
the assignment of Republic of Korea (ROK) 
soldiers to selected American units to 
serve as fillers and to receive American 
military training. 

K-day. The first day of hostilities in 
the war. 

Kim. See Hey, Kim. 

kimchi. (1) A sauerkrautlike Korean 
dish made of Chinese cabbage, chili pep- 
pers, garlic, and occasional other ingre- 
dients, salted and fermented in its own 
juices. Usually eaten raw, it is a staple at 
Korean meals. Like sauerkraut, it emits a 
foul odor while fermenting, but the kim- 
chi made during winter is milder and its 
aroma less offensive to American nos- 
trils than that made during the warmer 
months. American soldiers generally did 
not like kimchi, but it has become a 
popular item in Chinese and Korean res- 
taurants in the United States. Richard 
Herman, Jr., gives this impromptu review 
of the dish in a letter: "It has to be 
smelled to be believed — like miles down- 
wind — and tasted to be truly appreci- 
ated. It kills all intestinal parasites, 

cleans the plaque off your teeth and sub- 
stantially cuts down on the use of toilet 

(2) By extension, anything Korean (as 
in, "kimchi dog," "kimchi taxi," and 
"kimchi fart"). 

(3) Anything of inferior quality; used 
synonymously with "shit" (see also 


kiss my ass good-bye. An alternative 
interpretation of KMAG (Korean Military 
Advisory Group). During the early part 
of the war American KMAG advisors as- 
signed to South Korean troops felt en- 
dangered by the South Koreans' poor 

KMAG [pronounced "kay-mag"]. See 


Korean forklift. A wooden A-frame de- 
vice worn in knapsack fashion. In Sol- 
dier Talk (1982), Frank A. Hailey reports 
that Koreans were said to carry objects 
weighing up to a half ton on one of these 
packs. See also idiot board. 

Korean prayer book. An American 
mail-order catalogue (because the items 
for sale suggested a degree of comfort 
and luxury that one could only pray for). 

Korean sauerkraut. See kimchi. 

• * L * * 

lamplighter. A twin-engined C-47 
transport airplane used to light up areas 
for night operations. 

land of ... A construction used in 
many expressions to refer to the U.S. In 

248 • WAR SLANG 

Soldier Talk (1982), Frank Hailey dis- 
cusses the construction: 

"Land of . . ." were the key words which 
prefixed the hundreds of phrases coined 
by our soldiers in Korea to describe their 
homeland. A few of the most commonly 
heard were: "Land of the multi-colored 
'jeeps' (civilian automobiles), "Land of the 
Big PX" (any large mail order house or de- 
partment store), "Land of the two-storied 
Quonset Huts" (civilian apartment build- 
ings), "Land of the off-the-floor-beds" (as 
opposed to the sleeping mats most Orien- 
tals prefer), and the most popular of all, 
"Land of the Big Round Eyes" (although 
our soldiers found the dark, almond- 
shaped eyes of the Korean ladies beautiful 
and enticing, those GIs not of Oriental ex- 
traction longed for the big round eyes of 
their wives and girlfriends back home). 

During the occupation of Germany 
after World War II, in a phrase discussed 
in A Dictionary 0/ Soldier Talk (1984), 
by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest 
Deal: "Land of the Round Doorknob. The 
United States, so called because door- 
knobs in this country are usually round, 
while in Europe, especially Germany 
(where this expression originated), the 
doorknobs are usually shaped like 

layout. A forward observer who hides 
in a camouflaged hole to observe the 

leap off. To take off in an airplane. 

line crosser. A soldier who crosses the 
m.l.r. looking for prisoners. In One Very 
Hot Day (1967), David Halberstam de- 
scribes a man who had been a line 
crosser in Korea: "He had worked for a 
time filtering back and forth across lines, 
working on prisoner-snatching, a job as- 

signed to him because when the call 
went out for volunteers his battalion 
commander had not liked him, had 
viewed him as expendable and had vol- 
unteered him." 

line jumper. A North Korean or Chi- 
nese communist spy who manages to 
cross UN. lines. 

Little Chicago. Tongduch'on-ni, South 
Korea. Here is how it is discussed in A 
Dictionary 0/ Soldier Talk (1984), by 
John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest 

A town north of Seoul, just behind the 
US I Corps zone. Principal inhabitants: 
widows and orphans left by the North Ko- 
rean attempt to "liberate" South Korea in 
1950. Principal occupations: prostitution, 
begging, souvenir peddling, theft. Princi- 
pal public institutions: orphanages and re- 
lief missions supported by US troops. 

little friends. South Koreans; a derisive 
reference to their size. 

little R. Recreation. The big r was rota- 
tion home. 

Luke the Gook. A North Korean sol- 
dier. The term was sometimes also ap- 
plied to Chinese communist soldiers, 
though they were more commonly called 
"Old Joe Chink." See also gook. 

Luke the Gook's castle. An enemy 

* * M * * 

mama-san. A madam in a brothel. The 
term is a combination of the English 


"mama" and the Japanese suffix -san and 
means, literally, "boss mother." The suf- 
fix was added to many English and pid- 
gin words, in imitation of Japanese use. 
See also papa-san. 

Marine Corps Rules for Success. 

"Get a receipt for it, shoot the shit and 
never volunteer," according to William B. 
Hopkins in One Bugle No Drums (1986). 

MASH. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. 
The term is defined in The New Military 
and Naval Dictionary (1951), by Frank 
Gaynor: "A mobile hospital unit, orga- 
nized and operated for early surgical 
treatment of non-transportable casual- 
ties." This type of mobile unit was later re- 
named "MUST" (Medical Unit Self- 
Contained Transportation). As M*A*S*H, 
written with asterisks, the term was the 
title of a movie and an extremely popular 
and long-lived TV series. However, the 
unit depicted in the TV show bore little 
resemblance to the real thing. The suc- 
cess of the TV series led to a series of 
books with such titles as M*A*S*H Goes 
to Maine. 

megook. A U.S. soldier (as referred to 
by Koreans). Polyglot's Lexicon: 1943- 
1966 (1973), by Kenneth Versand, lists 
the term, as do other sources. In Marcy 
Reifer's Dictionary of New Words (1955), 
the term is listed as "megock" but given 
the same meaning. Neither source sug- 
gests the origin of the word. 

menticide. A synonym for brainwash- 
ing. A May 5, 1952, article in Life con- 
tained this passage: "This process is 
known as 'brain-washing.' The new West- 
ern word is menticide. No one hides it. 

Newspapers report its progress. The 
Communists boast about it." 

The term is defined in Polyglot's Lexi- 
con: 1943-1966 (1973), by Kenneth Ver- 
sand: "The gradual destruction of a 
man's mind, through psychiatric or other 
means, to the point where he will accept 
an ideology formerly loathsome to him." 

Mickey Mouse boots. Heavy rubber 
boots that made soldiers' feet sweat and, 
consequently, freeze. They were so- 
called, according to David H. Hackworth 
in About Face (1989), "for the striking 
resemblance to those worn by Walt Dis- 
ney's famous rodent." 

MiG Alley. The airspace over a chain of 
North Korean valleys where Soviet-made 
MiG-15 jet fighters based in Manchuria 
often intercepted U.S. planes attacking 
North Korea from the south. The MiG-15 
(one of a series of Soviet jet fighters 
named after their designers, A. I. Miko- 
yan and M. I. Gurevich) was first used in 
the war in 1950. The term "MiG Alley" 
appeared in many wartime headlines — 
for example, "Inside MiG Alley" {Life, 
December 10, 1951) and "Fresh from 
MiG Alley" (This Week, March 16, 1952). 

mind sweeping. An alternative term 
for brainwashing; a feeble play on 
"minesweeping. " 

Mister Truman's war. The Korean War 
(as referred to by those who felt that 
President Harry S Truman had decided 
to pursue the war for domestic political 

M.L.R. Main line of resistance (i.e., the 
front). Martin Russ discusses the term in 

250 • WAR SLANG 

The Last Parallel (1957): "The front, or 
front lines, are rarely referred to as such. 
MLR is used instead. It stands for 'main 
line of resistance.' In our case, the MLR 
is a deep trench, from five to seven feet 
in depth, running along the ridgeline of 
the hill mass occupied by our platoon." 

moose. A girlfriend. It is a corruption 
of the Japanese word for "woman." In 
Korea: The Untold Story of the War 
(1982), Joseph C. Goulden quotes a G.I. 
on his lack of interest in the war and his 
definite interest in the comforts of Japan: 
"I just want to get back to Japan to my 
little Sasebo Sadie. I have been shacked 
up there now for more than two years 
with the prettiest little moose you ever 
did see." 

mother fucker. An oath expressing 
deep contempt. According to Stuart Berg 
Flexner in I Hear America Talking 
(1976), this term "first achieved wide use 
during the Korean War." Interestingly, 
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictio- 
nary indicates that this term does not 
show up in print until 1959. 

move on. To bug out. 

• ft N * * 

new war. The period after November 
25, 1950, when U.S. troops launched a 
major offensive toward the Yalu River 
and were met by Chinese communist 
troops. General G. E. Stratemeyer, de- 
scribing the beginning of the new war to 
a congressional committee, said that U.N. 
forces were moving ahead unopposed, 
"But then, lo and behold, the whole 
mountainside turned out to be Chinese." 

North Joe. A North Korean. 

no sweat. No trouble; I can handle it. 

number 1. The best. Less commonly, 
"number 10" was used to mean "the 
worst," with intermediate numbers indi- 
cating gradations. 

• ft 


oil king. A Navy petty officer in charge 
of fuel oil storage. 

Old Fu. Chinese communist troops. 
The term derives from the insidious fic- 
tional character Fu Manchu. In Soldier 
Talk (1982), Frank A. Hailey writes that 
it was used in lines like, "There goes Old 
Fu back across the old Yalu." 

Old Joe Chink. A Chinese communist; 
"chink" is a traditional derogatory name 
for Chinese people. 

"Old soldiers never die, they just 
fade away." A statement made by 
General Douglas MacArthur at a joint 
session of Congress on April 19, 1951. 
He had been relieved of his command by 
President Harry S Truman and had come 
to Congress to defend his beliefs and bid 
farewell to public service. The phrase is 
from an old song, and reaction to MacAr- 
thur's use of it ranged from adulation to 
mockery. Joke lines based on the state- 
ment included, "Old fishermen never 
die, they just smell that way," "Old gar- 
deners never die, they just spade away," 
"Old songwriters never die, they just de- 
compose," and "Old lawyers never die, 
they just lose their appeal." 

On your horse, amigo? How are you? 
This was an American parody of a 
friendly Korean greeting, annyong ha- 

Operation Big Switch. The final ex- 
change of P.O.W.'s in August and Sep- 
tember 1953, in which 70,000 North 
Koreans and 6,000 Chinese were ex- 
changed for 4,800 U.N. troops and 8,000 
South Koreans. 

Operation Killer. The code name of 
the main U.N. offensive in Korea. 

Operation Little Switch. The April 
1953 exchange of 6,000 communist pris- 
oners for 700 U.N. prisoners. 

Operation Strangle. The code name 
for the largely unsuccessful attempt to 
cut off enemy rail and supply lines. It 
began in August 1951 and lasted for ten 

Operation Yo-Yo. The battle for Wosan. 
The name was given to the operation by 
the Marines who were left sailing back 
and forth as the harbor was cleared of 
mines. By the time the Marines were able 
to land, Bob Hope and a U.S.O. troupe 
had arrived. The G.I.'s who had done the 
fighting thus had an excuse to write a 
new verse to the Marine Corps hymn, 
which they sang for the Marines as they 

Those tough and fighting Gyrenes 

Wherever they may go, 
They're always bringing up the rear 

Behind Bob Hope and the U.S.O. 


• a p & • 

panic button. Anything that precipi- 
tates an exaggerated response to an emer- 
gency. The term was widely used during 
the war; it derives from the control but- 
tons or switches used in emergencies, 
which were known as panic buttons. See 


panic rack. An ejection seat in an air- 
plane. Although the devices appeared at 
the end of World War II, they first saw 
real action in Korea. The term "rack" is 
used in the sense of a bed or cot. 

papa-san. Boss man. 

papasan stick. Any of various sorts of 
walking sticks used by elderly men. 

peon. (1) Anyone not in an airborne 
unit, especially ordinary infantry. (2) An 
airborne-unit private or private first 
class. The word is Spanish for "peasant." 

pimple. A small hill. 

ping-pong war. See yo-yo war. 

pipe. A jet airplane (because of its tubu- 
lar fuselage). 

pipe jockey. A jet fighter pilot. 

play it cool. Take it easy; relax. 

plumber. A "square" (i.e., someone not 
"hip" or "cool"). In a report from Seoul, 
reporter Marvin Stone used the word 
"square" and got this response from an 
unnamed soldier: "A square? Man, what 
kind of talk is that? These days if you're 
not with it you're a plumber." 

252 • WAR SLANG 

police action. A term used to charac- 
terize the allied response to the North 
Korean invasion of South Korea. The 
conflict could not be called a war by the 
U.S. because Congress never declared it 
to be one. The term was used both as a 
straight description and, mockingly, as a 
bitter euphemism for the cruel and 
bloody war. 

The term was not an official one. It was 
approved by President Harry S Truman 
on June 27, 1950, at his first press confer- 
ence after the war began. According to 
Hugh Rawson, in Dictionary of Euphe- 
misms and Other Doubletalk (1981), 
Truman was asked by a reporter if "it 
would be correct ... to call this a police 
action under the United Nations?" Tru- 
man replied, "Yes, that is exactly what it 
amounts to." This led to an immediate 
spate of headlines — for example, "Tru- 
man Calls Intervention a 'Police Ac- 

pongo honcho. A person who passes 
gas frequently and noisily; from the Ko- 
rean pongu ("gas") and honcho ("boss"). 

Pork Chop Hill. A hill where a particu- 
larly savage battle was fought. The hill 
was named for its peculiar shape. In 
1959, a movie about the battle came out, 
starring Gregory Peck and titled Pork 
Chop HiJl. Some of the grimmest fighting 
of the war took place at sites with names 
like Old Baldy, Siberia Hill, Stalin Hill, 
No Name, Bunker Hill, T-bone Hill, and 
Capitol Hill. 

presento. Give me; from a Korean term. 

prick-6. The PRC-6 walkie-talkie radio. 
PRC stands for nothing; it is a letter code. 

The PRC-6 was supplemented by the 
PRC-10 in the 1960s, and both were re- 
placed by the PRC-25 during the Viet- 
nam War. 

psy war. Psychological warfare. 

pull a Hank Snow. To bug out. The 
reference is to "BUgout boogie." 

pull combat time. To serve in combat. 

push the panic button. To lose com- 
posure under pressure. In this war, this 
term was often linked with bug out, be- 
cause bugging out would often ensue 
when the panic button was pushed. 
Ironically, as "push the panic button" 
passed into civilian use it came to stand 
for doing a job quickly and efficiently, as 
in meeting a business emergency. Harold 
Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, in 
Dictionary of American Slang (1960), 
call it "a term associated with Madison 

• *r Q # • 

quad / quad-fifty. Four .50-caliber 
machine guns on a single mount. "One 
of the quads is firing right now, a wicked 
racket," writes Martin Russ in The Last 
Parallel (1957). Quads first appeared in 
World War II, but seemed to have a spe- 
cial importance in Korea. 

• * R * • 

Rambling ROKs. South Korean ground 
units. See also rok. 


R&R. Rest and relaxation, rest and rec- 
reation, rest and recuperation, rest and 
recovery, or rest and rehabilitation (i.e., 
a period of relief from the combat zone — 
as in, "ten days' R&R in Tokyo"). 

According to A Dictionary of Soldier 
Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, 
and Ernest Deal, it was unofficially inter- 
preted as, "Rape and Restitution or Rape 
and Ruin." R&R usually consisted of a 
five-day leave period for combat soldiers 
after six months in Korea. Elting, Cragg, 
and Deal note: 

Frequently the soldier returned twice as 
tired as before he left, but without his pre- 
vious thousand-yard stare. . . . 

It was during the initial phase of this ac- 
tivity that serious consideration was given 
to issuing a special Close Combat Badge to 
all MPs serving in Japan. However, things 
soon more or less quieted down. 

readjust the lines. To retreat; to bug 

real estate. Territory (lost or gained). 

re-Americanization. Reeducation in 
the basics of American culture. The proc- 
ess was applied to returning P.O.W.'s, 
among others. 

Red tide. Masses of North Korean 
troops. The term was popularized by the 
legendary New York Times journalist 
Homer Bigart, who wrote of a "Red tide" 
of North Korean soldiers closing in on 
American troops "silently and relent- 
lessly, the faces of the communist infan- 
trymen showing neither fear nor 

reservist mess. The situation under 
which reservists who were veterans of 

World War II were called back into ac- 
tion, while members of the National 
Guard were not. This violated an under- 
standing that men who had served in 
World War II would be called back only 
in case of an all-out war, not for a po- 
lice ACTION. 

The reservist mess was part of the 
larger "mess in Washington." In 1952, an 
article in U.S. News and World Report 
claimed there were no less than fifteen 
elements to the mess, including the 
"MacArthur mess" (his desire to fight to 
victory got him fired), the "housing 
mess" (large-scale cheating of World War 
II veterans through the overappraisal of 
substandard housing), and the "China 
mess" (a country the U.S. had liberated 
from the Japanese, but that was now 
fighting Americans in Korea). 

ride the pipe. To pilot a jet aircraft 
after the engine dies. "Pipe" is slang for 
the plane itself and acknowledges the 
point that a plane with dead engines flies 
like a pipe. 

ridge cottage. A bunker in the craggy 
demilitarized zone. 

Ridgway shuffle. A characteristic way 
in which paratroopers move to an air- 
craft's exit hatch. It was described by Ko- 
rean veteran Frank A. Hailey in Soldier 
Talk (1982): "The shuffling movement of 
the feet which paratroopers use as they 
move forward to the exit hatch of an 
aircraft in flight during an airborne 
exercise. Keeping both feet on the pas- 
sageway of the aircraft helps the individ- 
ual maintain proper body balance, 
especially under heavy combat load." 
The allusion is to General Matthew B. 

254 • WAR SLANG 

Ridgway, who commanded airborne 
troops in Korea before becoming the 
overall American commander during 
the war. 

rocket ripple. A barrage of small Ma- 
rine surface-to-surface rockets. Martin 
Russ, in The Last Parallel (1957), de- 
scribes such a barrage: "It may be ridicu- 
lous to call any barrage beautiful, but if 
one doesn't think about it too hard, a bar- 
rage is beautiful — to watch; especially a 
rocket ripple. It is the most violent bar- 
rage of them all: 144 rockets are released 
within seconds; they pass overhead al- 
most in formation, and land with a tre- 
mendous overlapping of explosions." 

ROK. Republic of Korea. It became a 
friendly term of address for South Ko- 
rean troops. The troops pronounced it 
"rock," while many civilians in the U.S. 
said "rook." 

rotatee. An American soldier on rota- 
tion leave away from the war zone. 

rove. To fire mortar rounds in no set 
pattern — one here, one there. 

Russian Wolfhounds. The 27th Infan- 
try Regiment. "Russian" in this name 
does not refer to the people, but to the 
breed of dog, also known as the Borzoi. 
See also hawahan mafia and wolf- 

* & s * * 

SAM. Surface-to-air missile. 

scrounger. One adept at acquiring food 
and other goods. In Marine at War 

(1961), Russell Davis points out that a 
Marine scrounger "is a highly experi- 
enced artist and not a mere thief." He 
adds that the scrounger's idea is that 
"everything is basically government 
property, and the government belongs to 
its citizens. As a citizen in good stand- 
ing, the scrounger feels entitled to any- 
thing he can move, from an orange to a 
bulldozer or a cargo plane." See also 
scrounge, under World War I and under 
World War II. 

second balloon. A second lieutenant. 
seesaw war. See yo-yo war. 

semper fi. The Marine Corps motto, 
"semper fidelis" ("always faithful"). 
Sometimes the full motto came to be 
used as an expletive, as explained in One 
Bugle No Drums (1986), by William B. 
Hopkins: "... when one Marine com- 
plains about his lack that another pos- 
sesses, he is usually answered by the 
cynical version of the motto, meaning, 
'Fuck you, man, I got mine.'" This comes 
up in the context of an incident in which 
one group of Marines has obtained fur- 
lined parkas and another has not. When 
the men without parkas complain, they 
are answered with, "Semper Fidelis, ole 
buddy boy!" 

shaver. A particularly diabolical booby 
trap used by South Korean infiltrators 
among enemy troops. They would take 
one wheel off an enemy supply cart and 
attach a bomb and a trip wire to the cart. 
When a group of men would lift the cart 
to replace the wheel the bomb would go 
off. As reported in Joseph C. Goulden's 
Korea: The Untold Story of the War 
(1982), it was named "for the effect it had 
on one's head." 


shook. A reaction to combat in Korea. 
James Brady writes about the term in his 
memoir The CoJdest War (1990): 

We were beginning to learn a new word 
for someone who'd had a bad scare or was 
losing his nerve. We said he was "shook." 
English majors such as me wondered why 
it wasn't "shaky" or "shaken" or something 
grammatical, but it was always "shook," 
and you knew what it meant. It had little 
to do with the old World War "shell 
shocked." That was another, very precisely 
defined thing that came from being too 
close to an incoming shell. "Shook" was 
nerves in general, and once you had a man 
who was really "shook" you tried to get rid 
of him because he was no good to you 

The following dialogue is from Milt 
Caniff's "Steve Canyon" comic strip for 
March 16, 1956: 

"In World War One they called what 
you've got 'shell shock'!" 

"We called it 'combat fatigue' in WW. 

"In Korea we said a man was 'shook.'" 

"But I guess you're probably just plain 

See also crack up. 

silver bullet. An antiaircraft shell that 
hits precisely on target. The fictional 
western hero the Lone Ranger — a user of 
silver bullets — was still in his heyday 
during the war. 

skoshi. Small (in Korean pidgin). It was 
used by UN troops to refer to small chil- 
dren or small amounts — e.g., "skoshi 
bit" "just a skosh," and "skoshi-timer" 
(a short-timer). 

This observation is from A Dictionary 
of Soldier Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, 
Dan Cragg, and Ernest Deal: 

Many Japanese loanwords are found in 
Korean Pidgin English, either imported 

by the Americans from Japan during and 
after the Korean War or picked up by the 
Koreans themselves during the lengthy 
Japanese occupation of their country. Suc- 
ceeding generations of GIs have perpetu- 
ated expressions like sukoshi, thus proving 
groundless the fear . . . that the Bamboo 
English of the occupation of Japan would 
eventually die out. 

The term arrived in the States as 
"skosh" and came into its own in an ad 
for blue jeans that featured "a skosh 
more room" for the postadolescent cus- 

slant. An Asian person whose eyes are 
perceived by westerners as slanting; a 
racist slur. 

slicky boy. A thief; a con man. This 
pidgin term was used by the Koreans and 
U.N. forces alike. 

snapping-in. Rifle practice. 

snooperscope / sniperscope. An in- 
frared receiver, which creates visible im- 
ages from otherwise invisible infrared 

snorkel sub. A submarine equipped 
with air intake and exhaust tubes that 
extend above the water, allowing it to re- 
main submerged for long periods. 

sound power. A simple but effective 
telephone system used in combat areas. 

speed burner. A jet aircraft. 
spider hole. A sniper's lair in a cave. 
squirt / squirt job. A jet aircraft. 

256 • WAR SLANG 

static front. The relatively unmoving 
front line in the cold, bare-boned hills 
of Korea. 

sukoshi. See skoshi. 

swamp buggy. An amphibious tank. 

sweat it out. To wait anxiously while 
a situation develops. 

sweeten. To improve. 

• -tr J ir • 

task force. A sometimes motley assort- 
ment of ground units. In Korea: The Un- 
told Story of the War (1982), Joseph C. 
Goulden describes "an inexperienced 
and unenthusiastic band of youngsters, 
grandiosely titled Task Force Smith, 
charged with blunting the driving ad- 
vance of the entire North Korean Army." 
The term is usually used to refer to a 
large group of warships. 

T-bone Hill. A hill that was the site of 
a bloody battle; named for its shape. 

league Sue. A certain Korean woman. 
She is described by Frank A. Hailey in 
Soldier Talk (1982): "An overendowed 
Korean lady who treated United Nations 
soldiers kindly during the Korean Con- 

teddy bear suit. 

worn by tank crews. 

Winter outerwear 

tiger. An aggressive pilot. 

toksan. A large amount; plenty. Ac- 
cording to A Dictionary of Soldier Talk 

(1984), by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and 
Ernest Deal: "The term is widely used in 
Korea and Okinawa today and has spread 
throughout the Army and Air Force." 

tombi. A cigarette; an Americanization 
of the Korean word. 

touchdown. The landing of the first as- 
sault wave in an amphibious operation. 

triple jet ace. A jet fighter pilot who 
shoots down three enemy aircraft in one 
day. Captain Joseph McConnell, who ac- 
complished the feat on May 18, 1953, 
was the only one to earn the accolade. 

Truman's folly. See mister truman's 

* ir (J A • 

upso. There isn't any. This comment by 
Marvin Stone, writing from Seoul, ap- 
peared in the San Francisco Examiner of 
June 2, 1957: "The 'snafus' of World War 
II have their counterparts, and out of 
clear skies came new words like 'upso' 
which today means 'there isn't any' " 

UTA. Up to the ass (i.e., an abundance). 
In One Bugle No Drums (1986), William 
B. Hopkins says that gook and "UTA" 
were "the most frequently used expres- 
sions in conversation." 

ir V * * 

Van Fleet load. Massive artillery fire. 
The expression alludes to U.N. com- 
mander Van Fleet, who when ordering a 


counterattack had said, "We must ex- 
pend steel and fire, not men. I want so 
many artillery shells that a man can step 
from one to another." 

• * vv * * 

war dogs of capitalism. The Marines 
(as characterized by the North Koreans 
and Chinese communists). 

war of nerves. Psychological warfare. 

war we can't win. The Korean War. A 
famous line quotes a G.I. insisting that 
"we can't win, we can't lose, we can't 

wet roadblock. The Yalu River (which 
UN. forces were forbidden to cross in 
pursuit of North Korean or Chinese com- 
munist troops). 

whirlybird. A helicopter. 

windmill. A helicopter. 

Wolfhounds. The 27th Infantry Regi- 
ment. At night on the front lines, the 
men of this unit would howl loudly to 
let the North Koreans know who was 
there. The unit was also called the Rus- 
sian wolfhounds and the Hawaiian mafia. 

word, the. The latest rumor. 

World War Th. The Korean War. The 
term was used to describe the war and 
underscore its severity. It was meant to 
contrast with the term police action, 
which was still being used after tens of 

thousands of Americans had died in 
Korea. In 1951, after communist China 
entered the fray, the term "World War III" 
was brought up as a possibility. 

wrong war. A possible all-out war with 
China. General Omar Bradley stated that 
it would be "the wrong war, at the wrong 
place, at the wrong time, against the 
wrong enemy." 

* Y 

* • 

yak. An aircraft. This was one of the 
first bits of slang associated with the war. 
As early as July 12, 1950, Robert C. Ruark 
wrote in his syndicated column: "A yak 
in this war will be an airplane." The 
name derived from the North Korean 
YAK-9 jet fighter. In fact the first US. 
"kill" of the war was a YAK-9 shot down 
by a Navy fighter on July 3, 1950. 

yak pack. A korean forklift, 

hiding to the pack animal. 

but al- 

yellow legs. The Marines (as described 
by the enemy forces). 

yo-bo. The Korean Service Corps, re- 
sponsible for moving supplies. 

yo-bo train. A supply column. 

yo-yo war. The Korean War. The term 
alludes to the way the war was fought. 
As Ralph Reppert put it in an article in 
the Baltimore Sun of June 24, 1951: 

Yo-yo war is exactly what it implies — 
advance, retreat, advance, retreat and so on. 
Early in the campaign such tactics were 

258 * WAR SLANG 

called ping pong war, seesaw war and other * -fr & it 

names, but none of those terms caught on. 

Then somebody described the course of 

battle as yo-yo war or yo-yo'ing it. After zombie job. A night patrol. 

that, for the average GI, the Korean type of 

warfare had a permanent title. zorch. Excellent 

Sources and Acknowledgments 

Berry, Lester V. and Melvin Van Den Bark. The American Thesaurus of Slang. 2d ed. New 

York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1952. (The first edition of this book was published during 

World War II, and the second while the Korean War was being fought. Despite major 

additions and revision the book has very few examples of Korean War slang.) 
Boyle, Hal. "A Primer on 'World War 2H.'" San Francisco Call-Bulletin (October 3, 1952). 
Brady, James. The Coldest War. New York: Orion Books, 1990. 
Elting, Col. John R., Cragg, Sgt. Maj. Dan, and Sgt. lc Ernest Deal. A Dictionary of Soldier 

Talk. New York: Scribner's, 1984. (This dictionary contains a number of excellent entries 

that relate directly to the Korean War.) 
Flexner, Stuart Berg. I Hear America Talking. New York: Von Nostrand, 1976. (This book gives 

good attention to the Korean War, and the chapter entitled "The Korean Conflict" is an 

invaluable source.) 
Gaynor, Frank. The New Military and Naval Dictionary. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951. 

(Though weak on slang, this appears to be the only dictionary of military terms with the 

"feel" of the Korean War to it. It may be the only dictionary of contemporary military 

terms to cover homing [as in missiles] and pigeoneer ["an individual trained in and charged 

with the breeding, care, training, etc., of homing pigeons"].) 
Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story of the War. New York: Times Books, 1982. 
Hackworth, Col. David H., and Julie Sherman. About Face. New York: Simon and Schuster, 

Hailey, 1st Sgt. Frank A. Soldier Talk. Braintree, Mass.: D. Irving & Co., 1982. 
Heflin, Woodford Agee. The United States Air Force Dictionary. Washington, D.C.: Air 

University Press, 1956. 
Hopkins, William B. One Bugle No Drums. New York: Avon Books, 1986. 
Lawson, Don. The United States in the Korean War. New York: Scholastic Books, 1964. 
Leckie, Robert. The Wars of America, Vol. 2. New York: Bantam Books, 1968. 
Reifer, Mary. Dictionary of New Words. New York: Philosophical Library, 1955. 
Reppert, Ralph. "Them's Fighting Words." Baltimore Sun (June 24, 1951). (An extraordinarily 

good report on the war slang while the War was still a going concern.) 
Ruark, Robert C. "War Language." San Francisco News (July 12, 1950). 
Russ, Martin. The Last Parallel. New York: Zebra Books, original copyright 1957. 
Stone, Marvin. "Natives Fractured by Jargon of GI Joes." San Francisco Examiner (June 2, 1957). 
Tuckman, Robert. "GI Talk in Korea." Baltimore Sun (June 7, 1953). 
Versand, Kenneth. Polyglot's Lexicon: 1943-1966. New York: Links Books, 1973. 
Frank Hailey and Joe Goulden provided much-appreciated additional help. Key bits of 

information were found in the Tamony Collection and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in 





Out of the Jungles of Southeast Asia 

Many of the words and terms of the war are by now so completely 
debunked and abused that if they were not so laden with tragedy they 
would be funny. Among them "pacification," "light at the end of the 
tunnel," "body count," "free-fire zone," "hearts and minds of the people," 
. . . "kill ratio," . . . "search and destroy." 

—Paul Dickson, The New York Times, April 15, 1972 

The patois of the Vietnam experience infiltrated the American consciousness 
slowly, for more than a decade, on a Ho Chi Minh trail of the mind. 

—Martin F. Nolan, the Boston Globe, July 18, 1982 

During the war in Vietnam, especially during the early days, it was not 
unusual for soldiers to use terms the Army had acquired elsewhere at another 
time. Early in the conflict an Associated Press reporter noted, for instance, 
that the troops were using such terms as the Japanese ichiban ("number one"; 
"the best"), the Korean idiwash ("come here"), and the German Bierstube 
("beer hall"), picked up during the period of occupation after World War II. 
This is how it has always been. Soldiers bring the terminology of one fight 
or period of occupation to the next and then embellish it with new terms 
until it takes on the flavor of that war. "The war in South Vietnam is producing 
its own vocabulary," wrote Jack Langguth in The New York Times for Septem- 
ber 20, 1964: "Among the Americans stationed here, World War II's argot has 
long since faded away. Even Korea's glossary sounds dated." 

260 * WAR SLANG 

The war did indeed produce a totally new slang — brutal, direct, and geared 
to high-tech jungle warfare with a rock 'n' roll beat backed up by the throb 
of chopper engines. The war also had a totally new result — an American 
defeat. The costs of the war were enormous, in lives, dollars, and dissent. If 
the slang seems loaded with raw frustration and bitter cynicism, it figures. 

• a A * * 

ace of spades. A playing card that the 
Vietnamese interpreted as a symbol of 
death. American and South Vietnamese 
soldiers placed the card on enemy dead 
to scare the living. According to Linda 
Reinberg in In the Field: The Language 
of the Vietnam War (1991): "United 
States playing card manufacturers sent 
packages of the ace of spades to the 
troops in Vietnam to be used just for 
this purpose." 

acting jack. 

sioned officer. 

An acting noncommis- 

agency, the. The Central Intelligence 
Agency (C.I.A.). 

Agent Orange. One of a number of de- 
foliants that were designated by a color- 
coded bar on the container. Others in- 
cluded Agent White and Agent Purple. 
Eleven million gallons of Orange were 
sprayed in Vietnam between 1965 and 
1970. It was later shown to cause a vari- 
ety of serious illnesses. 

a-gunner. An assistant gunner. 

air. Air power. 

Air America. An airline operated by 
the Central Intelligence Agency. Its ori- 
gins dated back to the World War II era. 

airborn copulation. I don't give a fly- 
ing fuck. 

air cav. The Air Cavalry, the helicopter- 
borne infantry. 

airmobile. Movement of personnel and 
equipment by helicopter. 

air-to-mud. Bombing or gunnery from 
an aircraft against surface targets; a play 
on the official term "air-to-ground." 

Alcatraz. A high-security prison near 
Hanoi where some American prisoners 
were held. 

Alcoholics Anonymous. The 82nd Air- 
borne Division. The nickname was in- 
spired by the two a's on the unit's 
shoulder patch. Other such nicknames 
included "Almost Airborne," "All-Afro," 
and "All American." 

all the way. The goal of an officer who 
wanted to rise as high as possible in his 
military career. 

Alpha Hotel. An asshole (i.e., an objec- 
tionable person). 

Alpha Sierra. Air support. 

ambush academy. Courses in jungle 
warfare, guerrilla warfare, etc. 


Americal Division. The 23rd Infantry 
Division. Because of its role in the 1968 
My Lai massacre, the Americal was given 
such names as "Americally," "Ameri- 
kill," and "Atrocical." It was also called 
the "Metrecal Division sponsored by 
General Foods," possibly a blend of 
"American" and "calorie." 

AMF. Adios (or aloha) motherfucker 
(i.e., good-bye). A long-running tele- 
vision ad for "The Greaseman," a Wash- 
ington, D.C., radio personality, ended 
with "The Grease" waving and yelling, 

ammo humper. An artilleryman; any 
grunt carrying ammunition. 

angel. A false radar image. 

animal, the. A device that detonates a 
dozen or more antipersonnel mines at 
the same time, letting loose a "hailstorm 
of 14,000 steel balls." 

animals of the Army. The Army 

ankle express. On foot. 

ape. A member of the Air Police; from 
the initials. 

applesauce enema. Mild criticism. 
The term is defined in A Dictionary of 
Soldier Talk (1984), by John R. Elting, 
Dan Cragg, and Ernest Deal: "To give a 
chewing out (the enema) to a subordi- 
nate, but to do it so tactfully and gently 
that he goes away feeling better for the 

Arizona Territory. The region south of 
Da Nang, known for Viet Cong ambushes 
(hence the reference to the Old West). 

armpit sauce. Nuoc mam, a fermented 
fish sauce central to the Vietnamese diet 
and noxious to many Americans in the 

Army brat. A child of an Army officer. 

artie. Artillery. 

Arvin. (1) A South Vietnamese soldier; 
from the initialism A.R.V.N. (Army of the 
Republic of Vietnam). An alternative 
name was "Marvin Arvin." (2) The 
South Vietnamese Army. 

as loud. Heroin smoked with tobacco 
(because tobacco was not "as loud" — i.e., 
smelly — as marijuana). 

ass and trash mission. Troop and 
cargo transport by aircraft (as opposed to 
combat or rescue work). 

AWOL bag. A small piece of black lug- 
gage popular with the troops in the war. 
Its name suggests something small 
enough to use when going AWOL. 

• a B * * 

baby shit. Mustard. 

bad paper. An other-than-honorable 

banana clip. A slightly curved ammu- 
nition clip designed to hold thirty 

262 • WAR SLANG 

banana smoke. A yellowish cloud 
from a smoke grenade. 

band-aid. A medical corpsman. 

B&B. Booze and broads; a play on r&r. 

bandit. An enemy aircraft. 

B.A.R. Browning Automatic Rifle. See 
under World War II. 

bare-ass. Barracks. 

baseball. A round hand grenade about 
two and a half inches in diameter. 

bask. Basic training; boot camp. 

B.C. Body count. 

beans and dicks. The beans and hot 
dogs in a c-ration (see under World 
War II). 

beans and motherfuckers. The lima 
beans and ham in a c-ration (see under 
World War II). 

bear. A copilot in the backseat of a two- 
person jet aircraft. The term is explained 
in T. E. Cruise's Wings of Gold III: The 
Hot Pilots (1989): "That's what the pilots 
call their backseaters in Vietnam, bears, 
as in trained bears." 

beehive round. A shotgun shell that 
discharges forty to fifty small darts. The 
darts spin and kill "like nails with fins," 
according to Mark Baker in Nam (1981). 

believer. A dead soldier (usually, an 
enemy soldier). 

bends and motherfuckers. Squat and 
thrust drill exercises. 

Betty Crocker. A serviceman assigned 
to Saigon (i.e., one who is safe behind a 
desk, assuming an almost domestic role). 

big belly. The bomb-carrying compart- 
ment in the B-52 bomber. 

big boy. An artillery piece. 

big bullet. The radar-guided Sparrow 
air-to-air missile. 

Big Charlie. The CH-47 helicopter; also 
known as the jolly green giant. An im- 
mense vehicle, it could carry as many 
as twenty-six troops. The name "Charlie" 
was doubtlessly suggested by the "CH" 

big P.X. in the sky. Death. 

Big Red One. The 1st Infantry Divi- 
sion; also known as the "Bloody One." 

big shotgun. The 106-mm recoilless 
rifle used to fire antipersonnel canister 

big top. A large open tent of the size 
used by circuses. 

big 20. An Army career of twenty years 
(the point at which one can retire with 

bird. An aircraft (but usually reserved 
for helicopters). 

bird colonel. A full colonel; from the 
eagle insignia. 

birdfarm. An aircraft carrier. 

birdland. Quarters for senior officers 
(because bird colonels live there). 

bird shit. Paratroopers (because they 
fall from the sky). 

black hats. (1) The communist enemy. 
(2) Drill instructors. (3) Special units, 
wearing black baseball caps, sent in to 
clear and manage landing zones; also 
known as "pathfinders." 

black magic. The M-16 rifle (because 
it was made of black plastic and steel). 

blade time. (1) The time a helicopter is 
in the air. (2) The time for which a unit 
has helicopter support. 

blood. A black soldier. 

blood stripe. A promotion to n.c.o. in 
the field because of a casualty (i.e., be- 
cause of spilled blood). 

blood wings. A paratrooper's first set 
of wings; so-called because of the de- 
mands of jump training. 

Bloody One. The 1st Infantry Division 
(because of the red number one on its 
shoulder patch); also known as the "Big 
Red One." 

blooper man. The squad member re- 
sponsible for the M-79 grenade launcher, 
which was known as the "blooper" be- 
cause it lobbed grenades out to three 
hundred meters. 

blow away. To kill. 

blow smoke. To confuse; to cover up. 

blow Z's. To sleep (in the manner of a 
cartoon character who emits a string of 

blue / blue feature. A body of water; 
from the color used for water on maps. 

blue balls— type situation. A frustrat- 
ing situation; from "blue balls" (acute 
male sexual frustration, leading to pain- 
ful testicles). In T E. Cruise's Wings of 
Gold III: The Hot Pilots (1989), a pilot 
is asked what the phrase means, and he 
replies: "Well, there, nephew, meaning 
I've got an ammo drum jam-packed with 
rounds hanging low beneath my cannon, 
and I'm feeling frisky and light now that 
those bombs are away." 

Blue Max. The Congressional Medal of 
Honor; from its blue field and for a Ger- 
man air medal nicknamed the Blue Max. 

blues. An airmobile company. 

Blue Trees. Protective reaction strikes; 
a code name. These strikes are defined 
in Robert K. Wilcox's Scream of Eagles 
(1990) as "controversial attempts to start 
a fight." 

boat people. Refugees fleeing Vietnam 
by boat after the 1975 U.S. withdrawal. 

body bag. A zippered bag in which 
bodies or body parts are put for ship- 
ment; also known as a "rubber bag." See 
also human remains pouch, under the 
Gulf War. 

bogey. An enemy aircraft (actual or 

264 • WAR SLANG 

bolo. A soldier who flunks his rifle 
qualifications. In Korea: The Untold 
Story of the War (1982), Joseph C. Goul- 
den reports: "As punishment at Fort 
Chaffee, Arkansas, circa May-July, 1956, 
such a cluck was given a 'bolo,' a crude 
Southern scythe, and put to work cutting 
grass on the entire firing range." See 
also bolo squad, under the Spanish- 
American War era. 

bomb pocket. A target so attractive 
that it was bombed regardless of the cost. 

bom-de-bom. Ba Muoi Ba beer. 

boobies. Booby traps. 

boo-coo. Many; from the French 

boom-boom. Sex. 

boom-boom girl. A prostitute. 

boom-boom house. A whorehouse. 

boomer. An operator who refuels air- 
planes in midair with a telescoping re- 
fueling boom. 

boonie rat / boonierat. A soldier who 
has spent a lot of time in the field. 

boonies. The jungle. The term is de- 
rived from boondocks, first used by US. 
troops in the Philippines following the 
Spanish-American War. 

boot. (1) A soldier just out of boot 
camp. (2) New; untested. In A Rumor of 
War (1977), Philip Caputo writes: "I was 
alliteratively known as the 'boot brown- 
bar,' slang for second lieutenant." 

bottlecap colonel. A lieutenant colo- 
nel; from the insignia, which looks like 
the tinfoil on a bottlecap. 

bouncing betty. A land mine that, 
when triggered, pops up waist-high and 
sprays shrapnel. See also under the 
Gulf War. 

bowl. A pipe for smoking marijuana. 

box. A target zone about five eighths of 
a mile wide and two miles long. 

brace. An exaggerated position of at- 
tention. In The Boo, a novel about the 
Citadel, a military school, Pat Conroy de- 
scribes plebes bracing: "Their chins are 
tucked in, their shoulders thrown back, 
and their backs are rigidly straight." 

break down. To disassemble (as a rifle). 

break starch. To put on a fresh set of 
heavily starched fatigues. 

brew. (1) Coffee. (2) Beer. 
bring heat. To fire; to shoot. 

bring smoke. To attack; to call in an 
air strike. 

bring the max. To kill. 

brown bar. A second lieutenant; from 
the insignia of a single gold bar. 

brown-shoe army. The Army prior to 
September 1, 1956, when a change was 
made from brown to black shoes. The ex- 
isting shoes had to be dyed, so over the 
following Labor Day weekend everything 
was awash in black gook. 


bubble. The two-man Ott-13 Sioux heli- 

buckle. Tofistfight. 

Buddha grass. Drugs mixed with to- 
bacco and smoked. 

bullshit bomber. An airplane used to 
drop propaganda leaflets while broad- 
casting psychological warfare tapes over 

bullshit frolics. Another name for the 


Bumfuck. An apocryphal place where 
no one wants to be assigned. In Vietnam, 
the spelling was sometimes given a local 
spin: "Bhum Fuck" or "Bum Fuk." In 
Ghouls (1971), a character says: "After 
that I went to Aberdeen Proving Grounds 
and you went to Bumfuck, Saudi 

bum's roll. A light pack — dry socks, a 
jungle blanket, a set of fatigues, C- 
rations — used in jungle warfare. The 
pack was reminiscent of those carried 
by hoboes. 

bunker buster. A satchel charge com- 
posed of C-4 explosive and a short-fuse 
detonation cord. 

Bureau, the. 


The Navy Bureau of Per- 

burp. A Marine (especially to an infan- 

bush. (1) The jungle; the boonies. (2) 

bush masters. Units skilled in jungle 

bust. To reduce in rank. 

bust caps. To fire rapidly (especially 
an M-16 rifle). In Nam (1981), Mark 
Baker says that the term is "probably de- 
rived from the paper percussion caps 
used in toy guns." See also cap. 

bust chops. (1) To give someone a hard 
time (as in, "The CO. was really busting 
my chops"). (2) To give one's all (as in, 
"I really busted my chops getting it done 
before dark"). 

Butcher Brigade. The 11th Infantry 
Brigade, after the My Lai massacre. 

butter bar. A second lieutenant; from 
the insignia of a single gold bar. 

buy it / buy the farm. To die; to be 

• * 

•sir • 

cammies. Camouflaged apparel. 

camo. Camouflage. 

C&C / C&C bird. 

control helicopter. 


canker mechanic. A medic; so-called 
because of his role in dealing with boils, 
hemorrhoids, canker sores, and other 
non-combat-related medical problems. 

cannon cocker. A soldier whose area 
of specialty is artillery. A character in 
Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War (1977) 

266 * WAR SLANG 

is described as a "cannon-cockin' Texas 

cap. To shoot; from the cap-gun-like 
sound of the M-16 rifle. 

Care package. A package of goodies 
(candy, cookies, etc.) from home; from 
the charitable organization CARE (Coop- 
erative for American Relief Abroad), 
which sends packages to the needy 

Cav. Air cavalry. 

caydet. A military academy student. 

C.F.B. Clear as a fucking bell. 

chair borne. Said of a military bureau- 
crat or paper pusher; a play on "air- 

Charlie. The Vietcong; short for "victor 
charlie" (i.e., "V.C." in alphabet code). 
Other names for the enemy in South 
Vietnam included "Mr. Charles," "Mr. 
Charlie," and "Chuck." In Word of Honor 
(1985), by Nelson DeMille, one character 
asks another if the word gook refers to 
the enemy, civilians, or both? Here is the 
reply: "'Gooks' could be both. Slants and 
slopes were civilians. Dinks could be 
both. It depended a lot on where you 
were and what you was doing. Charlie 
was always the enemy." 

charlie tango. Control tower (in alpha- 
bet code). 

cheap Charlie. A skinflint. 

cherry. (1) A new man in a unit. (2) 
New; inexperienced; virginal. The term 

"cherry" has long been slang for the fe- 
male hymen. 

cherry unit. A unit that has not seen 

chicken guts. The looped braid on of- 
ficers' dress uniforms. 

chicken plate. Personal armor (e.g., 
the kind that helicopter pilots wear 
across their chest and groin). 

chickenhawk. Nickname for a young 
Army helicopter pilot. 

Chicom. (1) Chinese communist (see 
under the Korean War). (2) A North Viet- 
namese hand grenade. 

chopper. A helicopter. 

chow. Food. See under the Civil War. 

chuck. A white person. "A term ap- 
plied by black marines to identify white 
individuals," according to James Webb 
in Fields of Fire (1978), who adds that 
it was often used derogatorily. It is very 
likely that this term is a variation on "Mr. 
Charlie," a term blacks use for whites in 
civilian life. 

C.I.B. Combat Infantryman's Badge. 
"Probably the most sought-after medal of 
the Vietnam War. If you didn't have one 
of these you were not combat tested," 
says a man who was there for more than 
five years. See also under the Gulf War. 

Cinderella liberty. A period of leave 
that ends at midnight. 


civil serpent. A civil servant (espe- 
cially one who works with the uni- 
formed military). 

claymore. A type of directional anti- 
personnel mine carried by infantrymen. 

clerks 'n' jerks. Support staff in non- 
combat areas. 

click / klick. (1) A kilometer. (2) A 
short distance. 

cluster fuck. Mass confusion; a snafu 
(see under World War II). 

clutch belt. A cartridge belt worn by 

CO. Commanding officer. 

Coasties. Members of the Coast Guard. 

cock. To ready a helicopter or other air- 
craft for instant takeoff (as one would 
cock a pistol). 

combat ineffective. Wounded or killed. 

commf u. Completely monumental mili- 
tary fuck-up. 

commo. Communications (especially 

company, the. The Central Intelligence 
Agency (C.I.A.). 

Coney Island. The Marine base at Khe 
Sanh (because of the number of lights 
visible at night). 

Cong. The Vietcong. 

connex. A large metal box used for 
shipping and storage. 

contact. Firing or being fired upon; en- 
gaging the enemy in combat. 

contour. Flight at treetop level (i.e., fol- 
lowing the ground's contour). 

cots. Apricots. During the Vietnam War 
a superstition developed among Marine 
tank crews that apricots — contained in 
some rations — brought bad luck. 

country club. The headquarters area at 
Long Binh, South Vietnam (to men in the 
front lines). 

cramper. A "tiger cage," or a small cell 
used to break a prisoner's psychological 
defenses. The cell was so small that a 
prisoner couldn't sit up, lie down, or 
kneel properly. 

cropper. A latrine. 

C-rats / Cs. c-rations. See under World 
War II. 

Creep. The AC-119 aircraft. 

crispy critters. (1) Burn victims. (2) En- 
emy troops undergoing a napalm strike 
or flamethrower attack. 

Crotch, the. The Marine Corps. The 
term is often used in lines like this one 
from Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War 
(1977): "We're in the Corps, P.J., The 
Crotch. Semper fi and fuck your buddy." 

crow. An electronic warfare officer. 
Electronic warfare people call them- 
selves "old crows." 

268 • WAR SLANG 

crunchie. Ground infantryman; prob- 
ably because soldiers' feet make a 
crunching noise while marching, espe- 
cially on gravel. 

cumulo granite. A mountain hidden 
by cloud cover. 

cunt cap. See under World War II. 

C.Y.A. Cover your ass. 

cyclo [pronounced "sick-low"]. A mo- 
torized version of a rickshaw, common 
in Saigon. 

• «• D * * 

daily-daily. Dapsone antimalaria pills 
(because they were taken daily). 

day the eagle shits, the. Payday. The 
eagle is the federal government. See ea- 
gle day, under World War II. 

debrief. To get an oral report about an 
event (i.e., a reconnaissance mission or 
an engagement with the enemy). 

deep serious. A very bad situation 
(e.g., being overrun). 

deros. Date eligible to return from over- 
seas; date of expected return from over- 
seas. In Everything We Had (1981), Al 
Santoli called it "the sweetest word in 
the military language." 

deuce and a half. A two-and-a-half- 
ton medium cargo truck. 

dew. Marijuana. 

dich [pronounced "dick"]. Dead; from 
the Vietnamese word. It was one of the 
terms used for enemy killed (as in, "We 
have twenty dead dichs here"). 

diddy-bop. To walk with a bounce and 
a strut. 

di di. To run; from the Vietnamese di di 
mau ("get out of the way"; "hurry"). 

dinger. A marksman. In Khe Sanh: 
Siege in the Clouds (1989), Eric Hammel 
writes: "The crew felt it had earned the 
bragging rights as 'Best Dingers' in the 
battery. They got no argument." 

dink. An Asian person; a slur. Gregory 
R. Clark, in Words of the Vietnam War 
(1990), points out this was originally a 
Vietnamese name for Americans, mean- 
ing "hairy men from the jungle." 

dinky dau. To be crazy or off the wall; 
from the Vietnamese dien cai dau 
("crazy"; "ridiculous"). 

dirty officer. A duty officer. 

D.M.Z. Demilitarized zone. In Vietnam, 
the D.M.Z. was five miles wide and posi- 
tioned along the 17th parallel. 

doc. A medical corpsman. 

dog tags. Identification tags. 

do mal / doo-mommie. Motherfucker; 
from a colloquial Vietnamese term. 

domino theory. The belief that if the 
U.S. allowed Vietnam to fall to the com- 
munists, then Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, 


and perhaps even the Philippines 
would follow. 

double. To turn someone into a double 
agent. In Khe Sanh: Siege in the Clouds 
(1989), Eric Hammel writes about a de- 
fector who was a Moscow-trained agent: 
"We 'doubled' him immediately, and the 
take was astonishing." 

double-hatted. Holding two jobs. 

double veteran. A man who has sex 
with a woman and then kills her. 

D.O.W. Died of wounds. 

downtown. Hanoi, North Vietnam. At- 
tacking the city was known as "going 

Dow shalt not kill. Motto worn on 
bright orange T-shirts as a protest against 
Vietnam veterans' exposure to agent 
orange. The allusion is to Dow Chemical 
Company, which was a leading supplier 
of war-related chemicals, including na- 
palm. The slogan had been used earlier 
by protesters opposing the use of 

dragon ship. See puff the magic 


Dragon's Jaw. The Thanh Hoa Rail- 
road Bridge, south of Hanoi, North Viet- 
nam. It got its nickname, according to 
Robert K. Wilcox in Scream of Eagles 
(1990), because of its "near invinci- 

dream sheet. An official form on which 
servicemen indicate their preference for 
their next location and job. 

D-ring. A D-shaped metal snap ring 
used to hold gear together. 

dung lai. Stop; halt. This is said to have 
been one of the first Vietnamese terms 
learned by American servicemen in 

dust. To kill. 

dust off. (1) A medevac (medical evalu- 
ation) helicopter. (2) To be lifted out by 
a medevac helicopter. Both meanings de- 
rive from the radio call used to summon 
the first medevac helicopters deployed 
in Vietnam. 

• * E * * 

Eat the apple, fuck the Corps. A Ma- 
rine expression of anger; a play on 
"Corps" and "apple core." 

eight. A master sergeant; from the pay 
grade, E-8. 

elephants' graveyard. Boston Naval 
District Headquarters, which was the last 
posting for Navy officers during the Viet- 
nam War era. The allusion is to the leg- 
end that elephants go to a special place 
to die. 

E-nothing. One at the bottom (i.e., an 
imaginary pay grade below that of a re- 
cruit, E-l). 

E-tool. An entrenching tool carried by 

evak'd. Evacuated. 

270 • WAR SLANG 

• # F * * 

farang. A foreigner. 

Farm Gate. The code name for Detach- 
ment 2-A, the first U.S. Air Force unit 
to go into combat in Vietnam. As Neil 
Sheehan points out in A Bright Shining 
Lie (1988), the expression is gallows hu- 
mor, a play on "buy the farm" (to die). 

fart sack. A bedroll. 

fat. Said of a unit that is over its author- 
ized strength. 

fat city. (1) The Military Assistance 
Command, Vietnam (macv). (2) To be in 
good shape. 

fat-rat. Describing an easy job outside 
of combat areas. 

fatty-gews / fatykes. Fatigues. 

field first. A sergeant who runs a com- 
pany when the first sergeant is absent. 

field-grade night. A night during 
which there is enough light for pilots to 
see features on the ground. 

50-cal. A 50-caliber M-2 HMG Brown- 
ing Heavy Machine Gun. 

51-cal. A type of heavy machine gun 
used by the enemy. 

Fightertown. Miramar Naval Air Sta- 
tion, near San Diego, California. This was 
home base for all West Coast fighter 
squadrons during the war. 

Find the bastards and pile on. The 

motto of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regi- 
ment when under the command of 
George S. Patton III, son of the famous 
World War II general. 

finger charge. A finger-sized explosive 
charge used in booby traps. 

fireball. To concentrate a great deal of 
artillery fire in one area. 

fire base. An artillery base. 

firefight. An exchange of fire with the 

firefly. A team of three helicopters: two 
gunships and one equipped with a 
searchlight or arc lights. 

fire in the hole. Explosives to be deto- 
nated deliberately (e.g., a satchel charge 
in a suspected enemy htoey-hole). 

first John. A first lieutenant. 

first pig. A first sergeant. 

five o'clock follies. The daily briefing 
held in Saigon for reporters covering the 
war. Although frequently satirized as 
self-serving chest thumpings, these ses- 
sions were generally frank and factual. In 
The New York Times of February 4, 
1991, R. W. Apple compared it to the 
daily briefing given in Riyadh, Saudi 
Arabia, during the Gulf War: "In the view 
of the correspondents who reported from 
Vietnam, it is considerably less useful 
than the much-satirized 'Five O'clock 
Follies,' the daily briefing in Saigon, be- 
cause far fewer facts are made available." 


flag. To mark a person's military rec- 
ords; to freeze a promotion or transfer. 

flaky. In a state of mental disarray (e.g., 


fleshette. An antipersonnel round that 
disperses dart-shaped nails that rip 
flesh. This action is described in A. D. 
Home's The Wounded Generation: 
America After Vietnam (1981): "The 
fleshette-round erupted just up the hill, 
its centerpoint in back of Smitty. Nine- 
thousand dart-shaped nails saturated 
that portion of the field, filled the ditch, 
and drove Smitty and Speed lifeless 
against the streambed." 

flying butterknife. A patch worn by 
paratroopers, showing a winged bayonet. 

flying eavesdropper. The Navy's EC- 
121 aircraft, a radar and communica- 
tions center. 

Flying Horsemen. The 1st Air Cavalry. 
There is a horse silhouette on its patch. 

flying telephone pole. A surface-to- 
air missile; from its size and shape. 

F.N.G. Fucking new guy. 

Fort .... Many Army forts were given 
derogatory nicknames. In In the Field: 
The Language of the Vietnam War (1991), 
Linda Reinberg lists a number of them: 
Fort Fucker — Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort 
Lost in the Woods — Fort Leonard Wood, 
Missouri; Fort Piss — Fort Bliss, Texas; 
Fort Pricks — Fort Dix, New Jersey; Fort 
Puke — Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Screw 
Us — Fort Louis, Washington; Fort 

Smell— Fort Sill, Arkansas; Fort Turd- 
Fort Ord, California; Fort Useless — Fort 
Eustis, Virginia. 

four-deuce. A 4.2-inch mortar. 

fourteen. (1) The M-14 rifle. (2) The 
Grumman F-14 Tomcat aircraft. 

fox. To fire; from the former alphabet 
code for "F" (the new code word is "fox- 
trot"). A pilot says "fox one" to report 
that he has fired his first missile. "Fox 
two" means that an infrared missile has 
been fired; "fox three" means that a ma- 
chine gun or cannon is being fired, and 
the unofficial "fox four" is what pilots 
jokingly refer to as a midair collision. 

frag. (1) A fragmentation grenade. (2) 
To explode a fragmentation grenade; to 
wound or kill with a grenade. (3) To kill 
or wound one's superior officer; from the 
fact that a fragmentation grenade was 
often the weapon of choice. 

freak. Frequency (i.e., a radio broad- 
casting frequency). 

freedom bird. An airplane returning 
soldiers to the U.S. at the end of their 
tour of duty. 

free fire zone. An area in which per- 
mission was not required prior to firing 
on targets. 

friendlies. Military and civilian per- 
sonnel on one's own side. 

friendly fire. Fire accidentally directed 
at troops on one's own side. Friendly 
Fire was the name of a powerful 1979 

272 • WAR SLANG 

made-for-television movie about a 
woman named Peg Mullen (played by 
Carol Burnett) who with the help of her 
husband attempted to find out the truth 
about their son's death in Vietnam. The 
movie popularized the term but it began 
with the book Friendly Fire (1976), by C. 
D. B. Bryan, on which the movie was 
based. See also under the Gulf War. 

frog hair. A very small distance (as in, 
"Lay that two frog hairs to the right"). 

fruit salad. Two or more rows of cam- 
paign ribbons. 

F.T.A. Fuck the Army. 

Fuck it. / Fuck it. Don't mean 
nothin'. / Fuck it. Don't mean nothin'. 
Drive on. A phrase that soldiers utter 
repeatedly as a means of comforting 
themselves. It is described as "the man- 
tra of the infantry" in John M. Del Vec- 
chio's The 13th Valley (1982). 

fucked up. (1) To be killed or 
wounded. (2) To be drunk or on drugs. 
(3) As in earlier conflicts, to do some- 
thing stupid. 

fugazi. Fucked up; screwed up. This 
odd euphemism began in the Marine 

full bird. A colonel; from the eagle in- 

full bull. A full colonel. 

funny money. See monopoly money. 

funny papers. Topographic maps (be- 
cause of their comic book colors). 

• it 

Gainesburgers. Canned ground-beef 
patties in gravy; from the name of a 
popular brand of dog food. 

garritrooper. A soldier in a safe, com- 
fortable location. The term was coined 
late in World War II by cartoonist and 
writer Bill Mauldin to describe a soldier 
who was "too far forward to wear ties 
and too far back to get shot." The term 
survived and gained special currency in 
Vietnam in the early days of the war. Re- 
searcher Charles D. Poe has noted, "On 
Barry Sadler's album of Vietnam songs 
[Ballads of the Green Berets] there is one 
entitled 'Garet Trooper' and the song's 
lyrics suggest that Sadler had in mind 
pretty much the same kind of soldier that 
Mauldin was describing." 

get short. To approach the end of one's 
tour of duty (usually, when one has less 
than six and a half months to go — i.e., 
the halfway point of a normal thirteen- 
month tour). 

get some. To kill the enemy. 

get the hell out of Dodge. To move 
out of a dangerous position; from the 
Western movie idea that a good way to 
avoid getting shot was to get out of Dodge 
City. During the course of the war Dodge 
City came to be several places — for in- 
stance, it was Hanoi to pilots attacking 
that city, and to the Marines it was any 
place where many firefights occurred. 
See also boogie out of dodge, under the 
Gulf War. 

ghosting. Goldbricking. 


G.I.B. Guy in back (i.e., the copilot/ 
weapons officer in the F-4, F-100, and 
F-105 aircraft). The G.I.B.'s primary mis- 
sion in Vietnam was to operate elec- 
tronic weapons, detection, and targeting 

G.I. -proof. Said of weapons basic 
enough to resist jamming and other 
problems encountered when grunts are 
given sophisticated weapons. 

glad bag. A body bag; a play on the 
name of a brand of plastic bags. 

go green / go hot. To take a weapon 
off safe (i.e., get it ready to fire). 

golden B.B. / golden bullet. A bullet 
that fortuitously hits a soldier or an air- 
craft. Aviators realized that it took only 
one small lucky bullet to shoot down an 
enormous airplane. See also under the 
Gulf War. 

gomers. The North Vietnamese. 

gook. See under the Spanish-American 
War era, World War II, and the Korean 
War. In this war, of course, the term 
was mainly applied to the Vietnamese 

Gooney Bird. The C-47 cargo aircraft. 

"Goooooooood morning, Viet- 
nam!" Armed Forces radio call by 
Adrian Cronauer beginning in 1965. It 
became the title of a 1987 film starring 
Robin Williams, who played a Cronauer- 
like character. 

Go to Hell. Go Dau Ha, South Vietnam. 

goya. Get off your ass. 

grab ass. To have fun. 

gravel. A type of mine used by allied 
forces. It is described by William C. An- 
derson, in Bat 21 (1980), as "a little Mar- 
quis de Sade touch introduced in the 
Vietnam War." He goes on to explain: 

A tiny innocent-looking explosive about 
the size of a lemon, it was a mine released 
in large numbers from low-flying aircraft. 
Dropped in a frozen state, it hit the ground 
and, upon thawing, armed itself and sent 
out a web of feelers in all directions, like 
the tentacles of an octopus. Brushing one 
of the feelers might not prove fatal, but the 
explosion could neatly separate a person 
from an arm or leg. Further refinements to 
the tiny mine sometimes included its cam- 
ouflage in the form of dog feces, a form em- 
ployed with considerable success in 
keeping invaders off the Ho Chi Minh trail. 

grease. To kill. "Brother or not," says a 
character in Alfred Coppel's Apocalypse 
Brigade (1981), "you come out now or 
we grease you on the spot." 

greased. Killed in action. 

green. (1) Safe (e.g., a green L.Z. would 
be a safe landing zone). (2) Paper money. 

green apple. The knob that is used to 
get oxygen flowing in an aircraft. 

green bait. A reenlistment bonus. 

green beanies. The Army's Special 
Forces units; from their green berets. The 
term was not appreciated by the mem- 
bers of the Special Forces themselves. 

green machine, the. (1) The Army, es- 
pecially its bureaucracy. (2) By exten- 

274 * WAR SLANG 

sion, the Veterans Administration after 
the war. 

groundpounder. (1) A non-pilot (usu- 
ally, an infantryman). (2) Sometimes, one 
with a desk job. 

G.R. point. Graves registration point 
(i.e., a place on bases in Vietnam where 
dead soldiers were identified, embalmed, 
and shipped home). 

grunt. (1) An infantryman. (2) A Ma- 
rine rifleman. According to Gregory R. 
Clark, in Words of the Vietnam War 
(1990): "The combat infantryman got the 
nickname 'grunt' because as legend goes, 
it was an indication of his I.Q." See also 
under the Gulf War. 

GUMP check. The standard preflight 
check of gas, undercarriage, mixture, 
and prop. 

gun bunny. An artilleryman. 

gunny / guns. A Marine gunnery ser- 

gunship. An armed helicopter. 

gyrene. A Marine. See under World 
War II. 

• a H * * 

hack. To endure; to cope. 

hand frag. A fragmentation grenade 
that is thrown rather than fired with a 

H&l. Harassment and interdiction (a 
tactic in which random artillery fire is 
used to deny areas to the enemy). 

Hanoi Florsheims. Footwear favored 
by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese 
troops. They were made from used auto- 
mobile tires. 

Hanoi Hilton. Hoa Lo Prison, near Ha- 
noi, North Vietnam. In 1992 this struc- 
ture where American fliers were tortured 
and interrogated was demolished to 
make room for an office complex and, 
ironically, a 200-room luxury hotel. See 
also HILTON. 

hard rice. Munitions given to friendly 

hard -stripe sergeant. A nonspecialist 
N.C.O. with E-5 or E-6 chevron insignia. 
Mark Baker notes in Nam (1981): 
"Others of the same rank without the 
stripes were little more than PFCs." 

hash mark. A diagonal uniform 
stripe — or "slash," from which "hash" 
may derive — signifying four years of 
military service. 

hassle. To fight. 

head man. A soldier who practiced de- 
capitation. Here is a passage from Myra 
MacPherson's Long Time Passing (1984): 
"I was a head man. Cut a man's head off 
with an ax. I cut off twenty-one heads. 
We sold 'em to doctors and sech as that." 

heart. A Purple Heart, the medal that 
signifies a combat wound. In Fields of 
Fire (1978), James Webb reported on the 


"three heart rule" which was in effect in 
Vietnam. It stated that any Marine 
wounded three times during one tour of 
duty was immediately removed from the 
combat zone. 

heavy. A high-ranking officer. In The 
Grunts (1976), Charles R. Anderson 
quotes one of the grunts: "Them fucking 
heavies back in their air-conditioned 
bunkers at Quang Tri just sit there drink- 
ing beer and throwing darts at the map. 
That's how they decide where we're go- 
ing, Studly." 

hell-hole. (1) An observation hole in 
the floor of the CH-53 helicopter oc- 
cupied by a crew chief and a door gun- 
ner. (2) An area under the mast of a 
helicopter where the craft's transmission 
and hydraulics are enclosed with the aid 
of a hell-hole cover. 

hidey-hole. Any hole scratched into 
the ground or into the brow of a hill 
where a soldier can take refuge. 

high-angle hell. Mortar fire. 

higher-higher. The commanders: the 
high command. 

hill fights. A series of brutal battles 
that lasted for more than two weeks in 
April 1967 and involved Hill 881 and 
Hill 861. Eric Hammel reports in Khe 
Sanh: Siege in the Clouds (1989), "The 
first and cruelest struggle at Khe Sanh, 
the 'Hill Fights' began." 

Hilton. A name given to places totally 
unlike a Hilton Hotel. When Bob Hope 
returned from Vietnam in 1967, he 

noted: "Every broken down hut, hootch 
or quonset hut is called the Chu Lai Hil- 
ton, or the Hilton East or the Hilton 
something." The most infamous Hilton 
was the hanoi hilton, a prison in which 
many American P.O.W.'s were held. 
There was a 1987 film starring Michael 
Moriarty entitled The Hanoi Hilton. 

hitch. A period of enlistment. 

hobo. A homing bomb. The first one 
used, in May 1973, knocked out a bridge 
north of Hanoi that had resisted other 
attempts to destroy it. 

Ho Chi Minh sandals. Sandals fash- 
ioned from used automobile tires. 

hog. (1) The A-10 (Thunderbolt II) air- 
craft; also known as the "warthog." (2) A 
helicopter gunship of the UH (Huey) 

hog jaws. A special blade attached to 
bulldozers, used to clear landing zones; 
also known as a "Rome plow." 

Hog-60. The M-60 machine gun. Ac- 
cording to Jack Hawkins, in Chopper 
One #2: Tunnel Warriors (1987): "A 
door gunner's best friend was his hatch 
M-60 which many gunnies took to call- 
ing Hog-60's, though the old timers com- 
plained that a hog was a gunship and 
not just a small piece of the gunship 's 
armament; but the younger hot dogs re- 
fused to listen to what they considered 
'lifers' so the term 'Hog-60' stuck." 

home-front sniper. A Vietnam veteran 
who opposed the U.S. government's ver- 
sion of the war. One soldier is quoted in 

276 * WAR SLANG 

A. D. Home's The Wounded Generation: 
America After Vietnam (1981): "When 
we came back and we spoke and we gave 
testimony to what we'd experienced and 
what the reality of Vietnam was, as op- 
posed to the crock of shit the politicians 
and the media were generating about 
what the reality of it was, we got infil- 
trated, we got called 'home front snipers,' 
and it was allowed to continue through 
'73 when every one of us that were there, 
that were in the real fighting capacities, 
knew that it was going down the tube." 

homesteader. A soldier who stays in 
one assignment for a long time. 

honcho. (1) A chief; a boss. (2) A tough, 
aggressive pilot. 

hooch. A tent. 

hoochgirl. A young Vietnamese woman 
working for American military person- 
nel as a maid. 

hoof print. A sandal print made by an 
enemy soldier. 

horse pill. A large antimalarial pill 
taken weekly by some troops in the field. 

hose down / hosepipe. To shoot with 
an automatic weapon. 

hot. Hostile. A hot area is one occupied 
by the enemy. 

hot bunk. A bed occupied by two or 
more soldiers in succession. The previ- 
ous occupant leaves the bed warm with 
body heat for the new occupant. 

hotel alpha. To haul ass (i.e., to move 
quickly); from alphabet code. 

hot fueling. Taking on fuel as fast as it 
is burned, so that a plane in a state of 
readiness is topped off when it leaves 
the ground. 

hot L.Z. A landing zone under fire. 

hots. Hot meals. 

hot skinny. New information (usually 
based on rumor and usually about some- 
thing important). 

hourglass. A funnel point for trucks 
just south of Haiphong, North Vietnam. 
It was a target for American bombs. 

house mouse. A small soldier used to 
explore underground tunnels built by 
the Vietcong. 

Howard Johnson. A fire base built 
with future occupancy in mind. 

Howdy Doody. A chemical spray that 
made those hit with it stiffen up and jerk 
about; from the television puppet 
Howdy Doody. 

H.Q. Headquarters. 

Huey. A UH-1 series utility helicopter. 
One reporter described it as a combina- 
tion of "shuttle bus, supply truck, ambu- 
lance and weapon of war." 

Hummer. The E-2 Hawkeye early- 
warning aircraft. Its twin propellers 
made a humming sound. 


hump. (1) To march; to hike; by exten- 
sion, to move faster. "Humping the boon- 
ies" meant trying to get deeper into the 
jungle. (2) An infantryman; a grunt. (3) 
Rotation of twenty-five percent or more 
of a unit within a thirty-day period; also 
known as a "rotational hump." 

This is a term which has changed its 
military meaning. Researcher Charles D. 
Poe reports, "In World War II pilots used 
the term hump to refer to the terrain be- 
tween China and India [the high eastern 
Himalayas] but in the Vietnam War this 
word was used by infantrymen to de- 
scribe walking under the heavy weight 
of their equipment." 

hundred and worst. The 101st Air- 
borne Division. 

hurtin'. Injured; dead. A 1964 Associ- 
ated Press dispatch from Vietnam notes 
that in one case the term was used to 
mean "that a man's head had been blown 
off by a howitzer shell." 

* * | * * 

l&l. Intercourse and intoxication; a play 
on R&R. 

I.C. Innocent civilian. 

Igloo White. The plan to seed the Ho 
Chi Minh trail with electronic sensors 
linked to cluster bombs and antiperson- 
nel mines, to form a lethal barrier. 

ilium. An illumination flare. 

immersion foot, trench foot. See under 
World War I. 

incoming / incoming mail. Hostile ar- 
tillery fire. 

in contact. Under attack by the enemy. 

in-country. A country outside the U.S. 
to which one is assigned. During the 
Vietnam war it meant being in Vietnam: 
"After R&R in Bangkok, I was back in- 
country." In Country was the name of a 
1989 film, starring Bruce Willis, about 
the war. 

Indian country. Unsecured territory. In 
Fire in the Lake (1972), Frances FitzGer- 
ald writes: "In Vietnam American offi- 
cers liked to call the area outside GVN 
[Government of Vietnam] control 'Indian 
country.' It was a joke, of course, no more 
than a figure of speech, but it put the 
Vietnam War into a definite historical 
and mythological perspective." 

ink blot. The theory that hundreds of 
thousands of men had to spread out like 
an ink blot (alternatively, like an "oil 
slick") to ensure that "pacification" was 
taking hold. 

Irish pennant. A loose thread, strap, 

•k it J it it 

jacket. One's official service record. 

jack shit. (1) An idiot. (2) A second 
lieutenant. Presumably, both of these 
come from the line "He don't know shit" 
or "He don't know jack shit." 

Jacob's ladder. A rope ladder dropped 
from a helicopter; from the biblical story 

278 • WAR SLANG 

of Jacob, who had a dream of a ladder 
leading to heaven. 

Jesus nut. The nut holding the bolt 
that holds the rotor blade to a helicopter. 

John. A lieutenant; hence, first john 
and second john. 

John Wayne. (1) To act heroically. (2) 
A soldier who "acts it up" for the media, 
especially the camera. Legend had it that 
old sergeants told their men: "There are 
two ways to do anything — the right way 
and the John Wayne way." 

John Wayne cookies. The nearly in- 
edible biscuits in every C-ration box. 

John Wayne High School. The Army's 
Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg; 
from John Wayne's role in the movie The 
Green Berets (1968). 

John Wayne rifle. The .45-caliber ser- 
vice pistol. This term was explained in 
Charles Mohr's June 20, 1968, New York 
Times review of the Wayne movie The 
Green Berets: "A .45 caliber service pis- 
tol — which almost nobody can shoot ac- 
curately — is called a 'John Wayne rifle' in 
Vietnam because in the movies the Duke 
could knock down a running man at 300 
yards with one." 

Jolly Green Giant. The CH-47 double- 
rotor helicopter, able to carry up to 
twenty-six troops; also known as a "log." 

juicer. A boozer (as opposed 
"head," or marijuana user). 

to a 

jungle boots. Canvas footwear de- 
signed like traditional combat boots. The 

canvas dries easily, while leather would 
rot in the jungle. 

jungle rule, the. "Always be quiet." 

jungle utilities. Lightweight fatigues. 

junior birdman. A young pilot with no 
combat experience. 

junk on the bunk. One's field equip- 
ment laid out on one's bunk for in- 

• a K * * 

kaserne. A military base; from the Ger- 
man for "camp." 

K-Bar. A military combat knife used by 
the Marines. 

khaki tit. The Army. A regular Army 
person is said to suck the khaki tit. 

Khe Sanh shuffle. A slouching run of 
not more than fifty meters without find- 
ing cover. The allusion is to the long, re- 
lentless siege at Khe Sanh. 

K.I.A. Killed in action. 

kick. A dishonorable discharge. 

kick-out. Supplies kicked out of a heli- 
copter to troops on the ground. 

kill. A downed enemy aircraft. 

killer team. A unit that roams around 
searching for the enemy. 


kill-fire. A burst of gunfire so effective 
that it leaves nobody to return fire. Such 
action is described in James Mills's 
Underground Empire (1986): "And 
there's dust and smoke everywhere. And 
... all the noise to silence. Except for 
groans and moans. That's what they call 
a kill-fire. Because when you do it right 
there's nobody left and there's no return 
fire. It's a kill-fire." 

killing box. A target zone. See box. 

Kit Carson. A Vietcong who changes 
sides, usually for money. The allusion is 
to the use made by frontiersman Kit Gar- 
son of friendly Indians as scouts. 

klick. See click. 

K.P. kitchen police. See under World 
War I. 

K.Y.P.I.Y.P. Keep your pecker in your 
pants; a long-established motto in the 
fight against venereal disease. 

• * 

L * 

laager. A defensive perimeter. 

Land of the 24-hour generator. Viet- 
nam (where power outages were common). 

lay chilly. To lie still (i.e., to "freeze"). 

LBJ. Long Binh jail; a play on the ini- 
tials of President Lyndon Baines John- 
son. The actual name of the prison was 
Long Binh stockade, but most soldiers 
changed the last word to accommodate 
the word play. 

Leatherneck Square. A northern area 
of South Vietnam where Marines 
worked, defined by Dong Ha, Quang Tri, 
Hue, Cam Lo, and the D.M.Z. 

legos / legs. A unit that is neither air- 
borne nor mechanized. 

lick. A mistake. 

lifer. A career military person. 

lifer juice. Coffee. 

lightning-bug mission. A mission in- 
volving a Huey helicopter loaded with a 
large number of illuminating flares. 

liquid cork. Diarrhea medicine. 

little people. The enemy. 

L.L.D.B. Lousy little dirty bastards (i.e., 
the Vietnamese special forces). 

loach. A light observation helicopter, 

log. The CH-47 double-rotor helicopter; 
also known as the "Jolly Green Giant." 

long tom. The long-range .155-mm ar- 
tillery piece. 

louie. A lieutenant. 

lower than whaleshit. (1) At the bot- 
tom (in terms of rank or status). (2) 
Very depressed. 

L.P. (1) Listening post (i.e., a forward po- 
sition for observing the enemy, manned 
by two or three soldiers). (2) Landing 

280 • WAR SLANG 

platform (an amphibious piece of equip- 
ment used in beach landings). 

lurp. Special ration of food packaged 
for those on long-range patrol. Officially 
called the Long-Range Patrol Ration, 
which was developed by the Army's Na- 
tick Laboratories. Lurp is semi-acronym 
for Long Range Patrol Ration. 

* * AA * * 

Lurp: The Consensus 

The lurp is a remarkably lightweight, 
compact ration that can be flexibly 
packaged because it has no cans. Its 
major item is one of eight precooked, 
freeze-dried entrees (such as chicken 
stew or beef hash) that can be turned 
into a hot meal with the addition of hot 
water. But it can also be eaten cold with 
cold water or dry "as is" like popcorn. 
The lurp also comes with a sweet, cereal 
or a fruitcake bar, coffee, cream, sugar, 
toilet paper, matches, and a plastic 
spoon. It was found to be "highly ac- 
ceptable" by men who lived on them for 
as long as ten days at a time. Former 
G.l.'s commonly write to the developer 
of the ration, Natick Laboratories, at- 
tempting to buy some for use on camp- 
ing trips. (Freeze-dried foods very like 
those in the lurp have begun to show 
up in catalogues and stores selling to 
campers and backpackers.) 

lurps. Long-range reconnaissance pa- 

L.Z. Landing zone. Mark Baker de- 
scribes L.Z.'s in Nam (1981): "usually a 
small clearing secured temporarily for 
the landing of resupply helicopters. 
Some become more permanent and even- 
tually become base camps." 

MACV [pronounced "mac-vee"]. Mili- 
tary Assistance Command, Vietnam; the 
command center for Americans in 

mad minute / mad moment. A brief 
period of intense automatic rifle or ma- 
chine gun fire. The new and improved 
weapons used in Vietnam made it possi- 
ble to fire many more rounds per second 
than in previous wars. All the weapons 
around a U.S. base would be fired at once 
to kill as many infiltrators and snipers as 
possible. The radio call for a mad minute 


mad monkeys. The staff of the macv. 

Maggie's drawers. (1) A red flag dis- 
played from the target pit on a rifle range 
when a shot has completely missed the 
target. (2) A miss. 

Marvin Arvin / Marvin de Ar- 
vin. See arvin. 

maverick. A stolen or misappropriated 
government vehicle. 

McNamara's folly. The F-lll jet air- 
craft (because, among other things, of its 
many cost overruns); named for its great- 
est supporter, Secretary of Defense Rob- 
ert S. McNamara. 

McNamara's line. A barrier across the 
D.M.Z., composed of electronic sensors 
and antipersonnel weapons. It was 
named for Secretary of Defense Robert S. 
McNamara. Al Santoli described it in To 


Bear Any Burden (1985): "It was a joke, 
about seven hundred meters wide and 
thirteen miles long. Barren, it looked like 
something out of a World War I movie." 

McNamara's war. The Vietnam War 
(because so much of the buildup of U.S. 
forces in Vietnam occurred while Robert 
S. McNamara, a key supporter of the war, 
was secretary of defense). 

mechanical. Ambush weaponry trig- 
gered remotely by the enemy (e.g., 
mines, flares, etc.). 

mechanized ambush. An ambush em- 
ploying high-tech booby traps. 

medevac. Medical evacuation (i.e., a 
quick helicopter trip to medical help). In 
Fields of Fire (1978), James Webb distin- 
guishes between various levels of mede- 
vac: "Emergency medevacs were those 
near death. Priority evacs were those se- 
riously wounded and unable to ambu- 
late. Routines were ambulatory or dead. 
All Vietnamese casualties were routine." 
The term long ago passed into civilian 
use. Medevac helicopters are used by 
state police and other organizations for 
medical emergencies. 

mere gook rule. The idea that a crime 
isn't a crime if it is committed against a 
Vietnamese (a "mere gook"). 

mess kit repair battalion. A mythical 
unit to which goofs and bolos are sent. 

MiG country. An area defended by So- 
viet MiG jet aircraft. 

mike-mike. (1) A millimeter. (2) Any of 
the automatic weapons fired from heli- 

copter gunships (.20-mm guns, .762-mm 
guns, etc.). (3) A radio call initiating a 
mad minute or indicating that one is in 

military power. The maximum power 
for an aircraft without using after- 

million-dollar wound / million-dollar 
zap. A noncrippling wound that is seri- 
ous enough to warrant return to the U.S. 

miracle rice. A special strain of rice — 
designated "IR8"— that the U.S. intro- 
duced to Vietnam in 1970-1971. It came 
close to doubling the average rice output 
per acre. 

missing link. A second lieutenant (seen 
as prehuman). 

M.L.R. Main line of resistance (i.e., the 
front line). Often used with bravado: 
"I've got more time on the M.L.R. than 
the remf has in-country." 

M-l pencil. Any technique used to 
cheat or to beat the system. Originally, 
the term referred to a pencil used to 
make holes the size of an M-l bullet in a 
target to improve one's score on the rifle 
range. In About Face (1989), David H. 
Hackworth writes: "M-l penciling had 
long ago left the . . . range and become 
synonymous — Army wide — with cheat- 
ing in all the little ways." 

Mongolian ghost trap. A radar re- 
flector used by downed airmen to signal 
their position. In Phantom Over Vietnam 
(1984), John Trotti says that the device is 
"so intricate that by the time the crew- 

282 • WAR SLANG 

man gets it erected, he has either been 
rescued or died of exposure." 

Monopoly money. Military payment 
certificates issued in lieu of cash in Viet- 
nam; an allusion to the fake money used 
in the popular board game. 

monster. (1) The AN/PRC-77 radio (be- 
cause of its considerable bulk and 
weight). (2) The Phantom aircraft (which 
has been said to resemble a prehistoric 

moonshine. An aircraft carrying flares. 

M.O.P. Missing on purpose (as op- 
posed to the involuntary status M.I.A. 
[missing in action]). It is another way of 
saying a.w.o.l. (see under the Civil War, 
World War I, and World War II). 

mop up. See under World War II. 
mortie. A mortar. 

most ricky tick. Immediately; right now. 
This was a bit of pidgin picked up by the 
Marines in Okinawa. 

motherfucker. An all-purpose oath. In 
About Face (1989), David H. Hackworth 
writes of the use of the term in Southeast 
Asia: "In the Airborne, the term 'mother- 
fucker,' unless spoken harshly, was 
among the highest terms of endearment." 
It was ubiquitous in Vietnam. 

mother-in-law. A bogey; from the no- 
tion of a mother-in-law as a pest. 

mousetrapped. Caught in an ambush. 

Mr. Charlie. (1) The enemy. (2) White 
people; a term used by blacks. 

M.R.E. Meal Ready to Eat; a field ration 
that replaced the c-ration (see under 
World War II) and E-ration. See also 
under the Gulf War. 

Mr. No-shoulders. A snake. In Viet- 
nam, snakes were common. 

Mr. Refrigerator. American ambassa- 
dor Ellsworth Bunker (because of his 
perceived coldness). 

Mr. Zippo. A G.I. operating a flame- 

mule. A small motorized platform used 
to carry arms, and sometimes supplies 
and troops; also known as a "mechanical 
mule" and a "tug." In Philip Caputo's A 
Rumor of War (1977), it is described as 
"a heavy-weapons carrier that looked 
nothing like a mule but rather resembled 
an oversized toy wagon." 

mummy sack. A body bag. 

mush. To lose airspeed (i.e., for an air- 
craft to feel like it is flying through 

mustang. An officer who has come up 
through the ranks; an officer who has 
been given a battlefield promotion. 

mystery meat. Meat served at mess 
that lacks clear identity. 

• a N * * 

Naked Fanny. Nakon Phanom air base, 
in Thailand. 

Nam. Vietnam. 

nap of the earth. Flight as close to the 
earth's surface as possible. 

N.C.O. Noncommissioned officer. The 
term was often reinterpreted as "no 
chance outside." 

newby / newfer. A replacement per- 
son (i.e., a new boy). 

nipple palm. The nipa palm, which 
grows in Vietnam. 

No-clap Medal. A good conduct medal; 
from the belief that one will be given the 
medal if one avoids acquiring a sexually 
transmitted disease, such as the clap. An 
old saw states that enlisted men get the 
clap while their officers come down with 
nonspecific urethritis (the technical 
name for the clap). 

NOD. Night observation device. 

No days like that! Not likely to 

no-fire area. An area occupied by 
friendly forces. 

non-hostile. Accidental. The term is 
used to characterize wounds or deaths 
that are not caused by the enemy. 

November Foxtrot Whiskey. No fuck- 
ing way; from alphabet code. 

nugget. New. The term is used for a 
man on his first tour of duty, such as a 
"nugget pilot" or a "nugget replace- 

nylon. A parachute. In this war, para- 
chutes were no longer made of silk. 


• a O * * 

O-club. Officers' club. 

o-dark-thirty. Very early in the morn- 
ing; from the twenty-four-hour system of 
military timekeeping in which the early 
morning hours start with zero — e.g., one 
a.m. is 0100 (stated as "o-one-hundred 

officer material. Not officer material; a 

O.J. A perfectly rolled marijuana ciga- 
rette soaked in an opium solution. 

Old Shaky. The ancient C-124 aircraft. 

one-digit midget. A person with less 
than ten days left to serve in Vietnam or 
in the Army (i.e., a real short-timer). 

on the line. In combat; on the front 

ontos. A 106-mm recoilless rifle carrier. 

O.P. Outpost. 

ossifer. An officer. 

other war, the. The highly touted paci- 
fication program in Vietnam. 

outgoing / outgoing mail. Friendly 
artillery fire. 

outside, the. Civilian life. 

outstanding / out-fucking-standing. 

An expression of mock enthusiasm for 
anything from the excellent to the 
barely acceptable. 

284 • WAR SLANG 

over- two. More than two thirds of the 
way through a normal enlistment of 
three years. 

• * P it * 

P. Piaster (the unit of currency in 
South Vietnam). 

paddy foot. Same as trench foot (see 
under World War I). 

palm. Napalm. 

Papa Sierra. A platoon sergeant (in al- 
phabet code). 

P.B.I. Poor bloody infantry. 

penny nickel nickel. The 155-mm 
howitzer (described in terms of coinage). 

Pentagon East. A sprawling, low office 
complex at Tan Son Nhut air base, air- 
conditioned and outfitted for four thou- 
sand officers and enlisted staff. 

peter pilot. A copilot. 

p.f .c. Private first class. It was also used 
for the often-desired status of "private 
fucking civilian." 

P.I. Political influence; political inter- 
est. A private whose father was a mem- 
ber of Congress might find the initials 
"P.I." on his service jacket. 

pick up brass. To leave; to move out. 
The expression comes from the rifle 
range, where soldiers are required to 
pick up their brass shell casings when 
they are done. 

ping. To criticize. 

Pinkville. An area northeast of Quang 
Ngai, South Vietnam; from the fact that 
its high population density caused it to 
appear red on Army maps. 

piss tube. A rocket casing stuck in the 
ground and used as a urinal. 

pocket leave. To take one's leave with- 
out leaving the post or base; probably so- 
called because the leave papers stay in 
the soldier's pocket. 

pogue. A rear-echelon military person; 
used derogatorily. See also under World 
War II and the Gulf War. 

point / point man. The forward man 
on patrol or on a combat mission. His 
purpose was to draw enemy fire and 
allow the main body of soldiers to attack. 

police. To clean up. 

pop. To shoot; to kill. 

pop smoke. To ignite and throw a 
smoke grenade as a signal to incoming 

pos. Position. 

prang. To land a helicopter roughly. 

prick-25. The AN/PRC-25 field radio. 

professional copilot. A terrible pilot. 

Psychedelic Cookie. The 9th Infantry 
Division; from the octofoil design of its 
shoulder patch. 


psywar. Psychological warfare. 

P.T. Physical training. 

ptomaine domain / ptomaine pal- 
ace. A mess hall. 

pucker factor. A measure of intense 
fear (i.e., the degree to which a soldier's 
anus tightens up). See also under the 
Gulf War. 

Puff. Popular forces; Montagnards. 

Puff the Magic Dragon. A C-47, DC- 
3, AC-130, or other aircraft armed as a 
gunship — or dragon ship — with 7.62- 
mm machine guns or similar rapid-fire 
weapons used in support of ground 
troops; from the title of a popular song 
of the period, sung by Peter, Paul, and 

puke. A rookie. 

Puking Buzzards. The 101st Airborne 
Division; from the screaming eagle on 
its patch. 

pull rank. To exercise the power of 
one's position or rank. 

pull the pin. To leave; from the rapid 
exit one makes after pulling the pin on 
a hand grenade. 

purple vision. Night vision; from the 
color seen in night vision scopes. 

puss guts. Members of the American 
Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars 
who gather in meeting halls and drink 

Puzzle Heart. The MACV (Military As- 
sistance Command Vietnam) headquar- 
ters restaurant. 

P.X. Post exchange. 

P.X. hero. A soldier who bought med- 
als at a P.X. rather than earning them. 

P.Z. Pickup zone. 

• it Q * • 

quartermaster property. Dead (be- 
cause burial is a job of the Quartermas- 
ter Corps). 

que lam. A peasant (from the Vietnam- 
ese); used derogatorily. 

• it R it • 

rabbit. A white American soldier; a 
term used by some black soldiers. 

rack. A cot; a bed. 

rack in / rack out. To go to bed. 

rack time. Sleep. 

rail. A first lieutenant; from the single 
silver bar insignia. 

Ranch Hand. An allusion to defoli- 
ation. A Ranch Hand airplane was a 
C-123 outfitted with gigantic defoliant- 
filled tanks. The Ranch Hand pilots' 
motto, according to Edwin Corley in 
Siege (1969), was "Only you can prevent 
forest fires." 

286 * WAR SLANG 

R&R. Rest and relaxation; rest and recu- 
peration. R&R was a three- to seven-day 
vacation from combat zones. 

Rat, the. Phanrat, South Vietnam. 

ratchet. To escalate the war a small 
amount. The term was used by Secretary 
of Defense Robert S. McNamara. 

rat fuck. (1) RF's (i.e., South Vietnam- 
ese "reaction forces"). (2) A mission or 
operation that is doomed from the be- 

ration drawer. A person who collects 
(i.e., draws) food, pay, and benefits with- 
out working for them. 

ration of shit. A hard time. 

read. To hear or understand a radio 

real world. See world, the. 

rear-echelon motherfucker. An ex- 
pression of contempt for enlisted men 
and officers assigned to noncombat 
areas. Crisis in Command (1978), by 
Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, 
provides this insight into the term: 
"Often the individual infantryman 
would spend days in the field in search 
of the enemy only to witness upon his 
return large numbers of clean-shaven 
and starch-fatigued officers going about 
their business in their secure environ- 
ments. The troops developed a series of 
terms for these officers, the most derisive 
of which was 'rear-echelon mother- 
fucker.' " See also remf. 

reckless rifle. A recoilless rifle. 

recon. Reconnaissance. 

red cunt hair. A very small distance (as 
in, "That is one red cunt hair out of 

red L.Z. A landing zone under hostile 

red phone. A telephone reserved for 
the direst of emergencies. 

reefer. (1) A refrigerator; a refrigerated 
vehicle. (2) A marijuana cigarette. 

REMF. Rear-echelon motherfucker (i.e., 
a base camp support soldier). In John M. 
Del Vecchio's The 13th Valley (1982), a 
man expresses himself redundantly by 
saying, "and I do my job better than any 
mother-fucking REMF." See also rear- 

repple-depple. A replacement depot — 
the casual camp where incoming sol- 
diers (replacements) are processed. This 
term first came into play in World War 
II, but was used so commonly in Vietnam 
that its strongest association is with 
this war. 

Rice Krispie mission. A mission to set 
fire to enemy rice fields. The term is de- 
fined in The Heart of a Man: A Naval 
Pilot's Vietnam (1973), by Frank C. El- 
kins: "One of our mission flights will be 
to set the VC rice fields on fire (we hear 
that they are short on food for the first 
time). These operations are appropri- 
ately called 'Rice Krispie' missions. 
Cute, eh?" 

riff. To let go before retirement; from 
"reduction in force." Riffing has been 

said to be the Army's way of controlling 
its reserve officer corps population. 

rifle. An infantryman. An ancestor to 
this term is bayonet (see under the 
Civil War). 

ring-knocker. Any military academy 

rip cords. Loose threads from the cord 
that is pulled to open a parachute. 

roach wagon. 

snack bar. 

A mobile canteen or 

rock and roll. (1) To put a weapon on 
full automatic fire. (2) Automatic 
weapon fire. 

rocker. Any of the lower stripes on an 
N.CO.'s insignia, which look like the 
rockers that would be found on a rocking 
horse. For instance, a master sergeant (or 
E-8) wears three stripes and three 

rocket city. A base under constant 
rocket fire. 

roll out. To get up. 

Roman candled. Said of a parachute 
whose silk has rolled and twisted around 
itself (i.e., looking like the white tube of 
a Roman candle). 

Rome plow. A bulldozer with a mam- 
moth blade for clearing jungle (manufac- 
tured by the Rome Company, of Georgia). 

rotate. To return to the U.S. after a pe- 
riod overseas. 


round eye. A non-Asian person (i.e., 
one whose eyes are not perceived as 
slanting by westerners). 

ruck. A rucksack; a pack. 

Ruff Puff. Regional Forces (R.F.) and 
Popular Forces (P.F.) of the South Viet- 
namese military. 

• ir 

it • 

sack. (1) A bed. (2) To totally destroy an 
enemy area. 

sack in / sack out. To go to bed. 

Sadeye. The Mark 5 Universal Weap- 
ons Dispenser, which releases antiper- 
sonnel bomblets. 

Saigon cowboy. An inappropriately 
dressed soldier in a noncombat area. The 
type is described by David H. Hackworth 
in About Face (1989): "a breed of rear- 
echelon soldiers so called for their latest 
and greatest, dressed to the hilt warrior 
look that they took no closer to the com- 
bat zone than absolutely necessary." 

Saigon tea. Colored water drunk by 
Vietnamese bar girls, which soldiers 
paid for as if it were an expensive, ex- 
otic cocktail. 

salty dog. A piece of equipment lost as 
the result of enemy action. 

Same mud, same blood. A saying 
that described the good race relations 
that often characterized combat zones. 

S&D. Search and destroy. 

288 • WAR SLANG 

sandpaper. Government-issue toilet 

sap charge. An explosive. 

sapper. (1) An infiltrator. (2) A North 
Vietnamese or Vietcong commando. 

sarge. Sergeant. 

Scared Horse. The 11th Armored Cav- 
alry Regiment; so-called because of the 
rearing horse on its shoulder patch. 

school solution. A solution taught at a 
military training school, such as Fort 
Benning. School solutions were not 
highly regarded. In Delta Force (1983), 
by Charlie A. Beckwith and Donald 
Knox, there is a story about a fake tomb- 
stone placed outside a Ranger briefing 
shack, bearing this verse: 

Here lies the bones 

Of Ranger Jones, 

A graduate of this institution; 

He died last night 

in his first fire fight, 

using the school solution. 

Therefore, be flexible! 

scope head. A radarman (because he 
is always looking at a radar scope). 

scrambled eggs. The gold embellish- 
ment on the hat visors of senior officers. 

seagull. A pilot who does not like to 
fly. The term is explained by Robert K. 
Wilcox in Scream of Eagles (1990): "you 
have to throw a rock to get them to fly." 

search-and-destroy mission. An op- 
eration aimed at killing enemy soldiers 
but not at holding the ground afterward. 

second balloon. A second lieutenant. 

second John. A second lieutenant. 

see the elephant. To be in combat. See 
elephant, the, under the Civil War. 

service benes. Privileges (e.g., RX. 
privileges); "benes" is short for 

sewer trout. Fish served at mess. 

shake-and-bake. (1) A sergeant with- 
out much time in the service (e.g., a grad- 
uate of an N.C.O. training school). In 
Army Blue (1989), by Lucian K. Truscott 
IV, this explanation for the term's origin 
is given: "Sergeants who came from the 
NCO school were also known as 'shake- 
and-bakes,' after a television commercial 
for a product that promised something 
equally, improbably instantaneous, like 
fried chicken from the oven." The term 
was sometimes applied to graduates of 
officers candidate school, who got their 
commissions after three months. 
(2) To be led out. 

shaped charge. An explosive whose 
energy is focused in one direction. 

shavetail. A new lieutenant. This old 
term dates back to a time when the Army 
used mules. New mules had their tails 
shaved so that their handlers could dis- 
tinguish them from the trained mules. 
See also under the Spanish-American 
War era and under World War I. 

shithook. The CH-47 Chinook helicop- 
ter; a play on "Chinook" and a critique 
of the helicopter's slowness. 


shit on a shingle. Chipped or creamed 
beef on toast. See s.o.s., under World 
War II. 

shoot and scoot. An artillery firing 
technique in which a unit is moved 
quickly after firing to avoid return fire. 

short-arm inspection. An inspection 
for venereal disease. 

short-stick / short-timer's stick. A 
stick used to keep track of one's enlist- 
ment period. In Charlie Company 
(1983), by Peter Goldman and Tony Ful- 
ler, short-sticks are identified as "the 
chunky batons that grunts would carry 
and notch day by day when their time in 
country was running out." 

Here is another description, from 
Mark Baker's Nam (1981): "[W]hen a sol- 
dier had approximately two months re- 
maining of his tour in Vietnam, he might 
take a long stick and notch it for each of 
his remaining days in-country. As each 
day passed he would cut another notch 
in the stick until on his rotation day he 
was left with only a small stub." 

Although there was some metaphori- 
cal use of this term, it usually referred to 
a real stick, whose owner would display 
it as evidence that he was "short." 

short-timer. One whose tour of duty or 
period of enlistment is nearing an end. 
Such a person was sometimes said to 
be "short." 

shotgun envelope. A manila envelope 
for interoffice mail. It is punched with 
holes (so that it is easy to see if anything 
remains in the envelope), as if shot with 
a shotgun. 

silo sitter. A soldier assigned to a mis- 
sile site. 

single-digit fidget. A nervous condi- 
tion afflicting those with less than ten 
days remaining in their tour of duty. 

single-digit midget. A soldier with 
less than ten days remaining in his tour 
of duty. 

sitmap. A situation map (i.e., a map 
showing the dispositions of friendly and 
enemy forces). 

sitrep. A situation report. 

S.I.W. Self-inflicted wound. 

skag. Heroin. 

skate. An easy accomplishment; a pe- 
riod of ease. In The 13th Valley (1982), 
John M. Del Vecchio writes: "Normally 
resupply day was a skate, a day the com- 
mand cut the boonierats some slack." 

sky out. To flee; to leave suddenly. 

sky pilot. A chaplain. 

slackman. Second man behind the 
point man on patrol. 

slant. See under the Korean War. 

slick. (1) A helicopter without rockets 
or other external armament (used to 
carry troops and supplies). (2) A heli- 
copter that lands on runners rather than 
on wheels. (3) A helicopter. 

slicksleeve. Private: E-l. 

290 • WAR SLANG 

S.L.J.O. Shitty little job officer. 

slop chute. An on-post beer hall for en- 
listed men not of N.C.O. rank. The refer- 
ence is to the chute in farmyards filled 
with food for hogs. 

slope. An Asian person; a racist slur. 
The allusion is to the slope of the 

smadge. Sergeant major. 

smart bomb. A bomb with remarkable 
accuracy, guided by a laser beam or a 
TV camera. 

smash. Supersonic speed; from the 
sound and shock of breaking the sound 

SAAASH. Southeast Asia Multisensor 
Armament for Huey; a passive infrared 
and moving-target-indicator fire-control 
system for use by day or night. 

Smokey Bear. A drill sergeant; from 
the "smokey-bear hat," like the hat worn 
by Smokey Bear, the Agriculture Depart- 
ment's cartoon spokesman against for- 
est fires. 

Smokey the Bear. A flare-dropping or 
smoke-laying aircraft. The name came 
not only from the smoke generated, but 
also from the resemblance of a smoke 
generator on a helicopter to Smokey 
Bear's hat. 



The AH-1G Cobra attack heli- 

snake eater. An Army Special Forces 
soldier (i.e., a Green Beret); so-called be- 

cause the Green Berets on patrol alleg- 
edly ate snakes. 

snatch. A capture; a rescue (i.e., an op- 
eration in which live subjects are 
brought back). A squad specializing in 
such operations goes on "snatch patrol." 

snoop 'n' poop. Search and destroy. 

snowdrop. A member of the Air Force 
Security Police; from their white helmet. 

snuffy. A recruit; a low-ranking indi- 
vidual. The term may allude to the hap- 
less Snuffy Smith of the funny papers. 

S.O.L Shit out of luck. 

S.O.P. Standard operating procedure; 
standing operational procedure. 

Sorry about that. A response to any 
bit of ill-fortune, from the trivial to the 

S.O.S. (1) Squadron officers' school. (2) 
Same old shit. (3) Chipped or creamed 
beef on toast; see under World War II. 

space cadet. A young show-off pilot. 

Spad. An A-l Skyraider (a propeller- 
driven airplane). It was based on a de- 
sign that was so old that, to quote T. E. 
Cruise's Wings of Gold III. The Hot Pilots 
(1989), "it reminded the jet jockeys of the 
famous Spad biplane fighter of World 
War I." 

spec. Specialist. 

special feces. Special Forces. 


spider hole. A camouflaged enemy fir- 
ing position; a sniper's lair in a cave. 

spin. A "separation program number" 
(S.P.N.), any of 446 coded reasons why a 
soldier could be discharged with other 
than an unmodified honorable dis- 
charge. For instance, there is a spin for 
bed-wetting and another for immaturity. 
Discharge papers without the taint of a 
spin were "spin-free." 

spit and polish. Impressive outward 
appearance; from the fact that mixing 
water (or spit) with shoe polish makes 
the polish go on better. 

spoon. A part of a hand grenade. Re- 
leasing the spoon causes the grenade to 
explode. Philip Caputo uses the term in 
A Rumor of War (1977): "He tried to 
throw a grenade at them, but his hand 
slipped off the spoon. The grenade went 
off and blew the sentry in half." 

squared away. Prepared; ready for ac- 
tion. The expression derives from the 
military practice of packing one's cloth- 
ing in a locker with geometric regularity. 

stack pencils. To kill time. 

stand down. To rest. A military unit 
stands down when it ceases all opera- 
tions except security. 

stand tall. (1) To come to attention. (2) 
To be ready. 

starch. Plastic explosive. 
stateside. The U.S. 

steel pot. The M-l helmet (a steel hel- 
met with a fiber liner). 

stewburner. A cook. 

stick. A group of paratroopers. 

sticks. Pants. 

stitched. Killed (presumably, because 
the dead person has been filled with 
holes, as if stitched). 

STRAC/strac. (1) Strategic Army Com- 
mand; Strategic Army Corps. (2) Soldier 
trained and ready around the clock (i.e., 
a soldier who is smart, sharp, and well 
prepared). In Charlie Company (1983), 
by Peter Goldman and Tony Fuller, the 
term is called "the Army honorific for a 
Class A soldier." 

straphanger. A useless person (i.e., 
one who is just along for the ride). 

strawberry jam. Gasoline or napalm. 
As Jack Hawkins writes in Chopper One 
#2: Tunnel Warriors (1987), it was 
"whatever the flamethrowing tanks were 
carrying this week." 

Street Without Joy. South Vietnam's 
Highway 1; from the French name, La 
Rue sans Joie. 

strike. To barhop (as if making a series 
of air strikes). 

stroke it. To back off. 

stupid. Said of a missile that has lost its 
target (i.e., that has stopped being 
"smart"). In Scream of Eagles (1990), 
Robert K. Wilcox writes of a Sparrow 

292 • WAR SLANG 

missile that "went stupid," which, he 
adds, was "similar (although at much 
faster speeds) to World War II search- 
lights losing enemy bombers in a night 

sub-gunny. Substitute door gunner. 

SWAG. Scientific wild-assed guess. 

sweep. A search-and-destroy mission. 

sweet. Good (as in "sweet radio signal" 
and "sweet radar lock"). 

swinging dick. A male soldier. 

swinging man trap. A particularly vi- 
cious booby trap. 

* * T * * 

tac air. Tactical air support. 

T.A.D. Temporary active duty. 

tail chase. To play follow-the-leader 
with jet fighters. 

take fire. To be shot at. 

take hits. To receive fire (e.g., a ship 
might take hits). 

tanker / tankerman / tankman. A 
soldier in a tank unit. 

T.D.Y. Temporary duty. 

tee-tee. Very small or little. 

television war. The Vietnam War (be- 
cause it showed the face of war to people 
sitting in their living rooms). 

tent peg. A stupid or worthless soldier. 

terr. Terrorist. 

Thirty-Three. A brand of Vietnamese 
beer manufactured under French license. 
According to Frank Snepp, in Decent 
Interva] (1977), "its most distinctive 
quality was its formaldehyde-like pre- 
servative which packed a wallop that 
equaled or surpassed that of Carolina 
white lightning. As the GIs used to say, 
it killed you and pickled you in one 

30-year man. A career Army man (i.e., 
a lifer — one who stays in the Army for 
a full thirty years). 

Thud. The F-105 Thunderbird aircraft. 

Thule coolie. A soldier on duty in 
Thule, Greenland; a play on the cold cli- 
mate of Greenland. 

thumper. (1) A squad member who car- 
ries an M-79 grenade launcher, also 
known as a thumper man. (2) The M-79 
grenade launcher. The term derives from 
the characteristic sound of the launcher. 

thunder road. South Vietnam's High- 
way 13. 

thunder run. A movement of armored 
columns along a road or trail with the 
vehicles firing alternately to the two 


ticket-punching. The process of meet- 
ing the routine requirements for promo- 
tion, by officers seeking advancement. In 
About Face (1989), David H. Hackworth 
writes: "So it had a name, I thought: 
ticket punching — the syndrome that had 
me chasing down that elusive degree." 

tiger stripes / tiger suit. Camouflaged 
tropical fatigues marked with brown and 
black stripes. 

tight. (1) Close, like good friends. (2) 
Performing well (said of equipment). 

Tin City. A complex of metal barracks 
at Guam's Andersen Air Force Base. 

titi. A small quantity. 

toad sticker. A bayonet. 

T.O.E. [not pronounced "toe"]. Table of 
organization and equipment. This was a 
document listing the type of equipment 
and personnel a unit was supposed to 

toe popper. A small mine that deto- 
nates when stepped on. 

Tomb. Colonel Toon, said to be North 
Vietnam's leading fighter pilot. 

top. A top sergeant (the highest-ranking 
N.C.O. in a company or battalion). 

tour 365. Year-long tour in Vietnam. 

tracer. A round of ammunition treated 
so that it will glow or smoke when fired, 
so that its flight can be followed. 

track / tracks. (1) An armored person- 
nel carrier. (2) Any vehicle equipped 
with treads. 

trained killer. A soldier. The term was 
usually applied ironically to boys who 
seemed to be anything but killers. 

trash hauler. A transport pilot not in- 
volved in combat. 

treadhead. A soldier whose specialty 
is armored vehicles employing treads. A 
character in Harold Coyle's Team Yankee 
(1987) says: "Shit, don't they teach you 
treadheads anything at Fort Knox?" 

trial by urine. Testing for drugs by uri- 

tripwire. (1) A booby trap. (2) An un- 
lucky soldier (i.e., with a knack for stum- 
bling upon booby traps). 

tripwire vet. A Vietnam veteran who 
dealt with the stress of having served in 
a difficult and unpopular war by living 
in the deep woods in North America. 
The headline for an Associated Press ar- 
ticle in the Washington Post of December 
31, 1983, read: "State Seeks 'Tripwire' 
Vets Hiding in the Wild." 

troop. A soldier. 

tube steak. A hot dog. 

tunnel rat. A soldier who searches en- 
emy tunnels (often, with little more than 
a flashlight). 

turnaround. On an aircraft carrier, the 
time in port between cruises. 

294 • WAR SLANG 

turret-head. An arguer; one who is al- 
ways spouting off. 

turtles. New replacements; so-called 
because they take so long to arrive. 

twink. (1) A rookie second lieutenant. 
(2) A new recruit. 

two hots and a Charlie. Two hot 

meals and a C-ration. 

• a U * • 

ultimate weapon. An infantryman. 

unass. To get up quickly from a sit- 
ting position. 

unbloused. Having one's pants not 
tucked into one's boot tops. 

uncle / uncle sucker / uncle sugar. 
Uncle Sam (i.e., the U.S. government). 

Uncle Charlie. The Vietcong. The term 
is used in Al Santoli's To Bear Any Bur- 
den (1985): "We controlled the daytime, 
but the night belonged to Uncle Charlie." 
See also charlie. 

unload. To accelerate. 

up North. Common way of referring to 
North Vietnam. 

use up. To kill. 

utilities. Marine combat fatigues. 

• -tr V * 

V.C. Vietcong. The term was applied to 
the North Vietnamese forces as well as 
to the Vietcong. 

V.C. land. 


An area controlled by the 

vengeance patrol. A group of Ameri- 
can soldiers who would seek revenge 
after suffering losses. In Dispatches 
(1977), Michael Herr tells of "entire 
squads wiped out (their mutilated bod- 
ies would so enrage marines that they 
would run out 'vengeance patrols' that 
often ended the same way)." 

Victor / Victor Charlie. The Vietcong; 
from alphabet code. 

Vietnam ization. The process of giving 
responsibility for fighting the war back 
to the South Vietnamese. Another ver- 
sion of this notion was Richard Nixon's 
"de-Americanization . . . with all delib- 
erate speed." Vietnamization was also 
Nixon's idea. 

Vietnam syndrome. An expression of 
the postwar public feeling about the 
unpopular, costly, prolonged, and un- 
successful American involvement in 
Vietnam. The term reappeared during 
the Persian Gulf crisis when, on March 
1, 1991, President George Bush said, "By 
God, we've kicked the Vietnam syn- 
drome once and for all." 

ville. A village; from the French. In 
Mark Baker's Nam (1981), a ville is said 
to be "any location from a small town 


of several hundred inhabitants to a few 
thatched huts in a clearing." 

void vicious. (1) Hostile jungle area. (2) 
The final approach to a hot landing zone. 

• a W * * 

wait-a-minute bush. A thorny bush 
native to Vietnam. David H. Hackworth, 
in About Face (1989), writes that it 
"could hold a trooper as tenaciously as 
a strand of barbed wire." 

wake-up. The last day of one's tour; as 
in "ten days and a wake-up." 

walk in the sun. Troop movement 
without risk of combat. 

warm body. A soldier. 

Warthog. The A-10 aircraft (also called 
the Thunderbolt II). 

waste. To kill (i.e., to throw away a life). 
This term appears to derive from street 
gang slang, in which "lay waste" meant 
to defeat. 

wasted. Dead. 

water- walker. One who has achieved 
perfection (i.e., one who can do the im- 

wet read. To study a reconnaissance 
photo while it is still wet from pro- 

WETSU [pronounced "wet-soo"]. We 
eat this shit up. This acronym takes aim 
at the petty, tedious routines of military 

WHAM. Winning the hearts and minds 
(of the people). This was often officially 
stated as a parallel goal with winning 
the war. 

whispering death. The F-lll aircraft 
(as characterized by the North Vietnam- 
ese). This interesting term was also ap- 
plied to the Navy F-4 Corsair in World 
War II and the M-l Abrams tank in the 
Persian Gulf War. 

white bird. 


A light observation heli- 

white mice. The South Vietnamese po- 
lice; so-called because of their size and 
their bright, lightweight uniforms, fea- 
turing white gloves and helmets. 

white sidewalls / whitewalls. A mili- 
tary haircut (because the hair is clipped 
so close to the sides of the head that the 
white of the scalp shows through). 

W.I. A. Wounded in action. 

wax / wax someone's ass. To kill. wild goose. A mercenary. 

web gear. A canvas belt and shoulder 
straps used for packing equipment and 

Wild Weasel. The F-105 Thunderchief 
aircraft with a modified fuselage to ac- 
commodate a second man. 

296 • WAR SLANG 

willy peter / willie pete. White phos- 

willy-peter bag. A bag for white phos- 
phorus. It is described in Philip Caputo's 
A Rumor of War (1977): "They did not 
find enough of him to fill a willy-peter 
bag, a waterproof sack a little larger than 
a shopping bag." 

WIMP. Weak Incompetent Malingering 
Pussy according to those insisting this 
was an acronym during the war. 

wire. The perimeter around a base, 
where trip wires set off booby traps. 

wire hanger. A soldier so far out of the 
combat zone that he can enjoy the luxury 
of hanging his clothes on hangers. 

wood line. A row of trees at the edge of 
a rice paddy or a field. 

word one. Talk. The expression is usu- 
ally used in the negative, as in, "I didn't 
get a chance to say word one." 

World, the. The U.S.; home. Sometimes 
the term was "the real world." 

W.P. White phosphorus. 

* Y 

Yards. Montagnards (a mountain peo- 
ple of Vietnam). 

yellow on rice. The Vietnamese point 
of view. 

yobo. Lover; from the Korean. The term 
is usually applied to a girlfriend. 

yo-yo. A vertical aerial combat ma- 

• •& z * * 

Z, the. The demilitarized zone; from 

zap. To kill; to wound; to destroy. 

zebra. An N.C.O. in the higher grades 
(E-6 to E-9). The term alludes to the num- 
ber of insignia stripes on the sleeves. 

zero-dark-thirty. Very early in the 
morning. See o-dark-thirty. 

Z.I. Zone of the interior. This was a 
nickname for the U.S. 

* X * * 

xin loi. "Sorry about that" or "good- 
bye" delivered in Vietnamese. 

X.O. Executive officer (the second in 

zip. A Vietnamese person; a slur. 

zipperhead. A Vietcong or North Viet- 
namese soldier (i.e., any enemy). 

Zippo. A flamethrower; from the brand 
of cigarette lighters. 

Zippo job / Zippo mission / Zippo 
raid. A search-and-destroy mission in 


which villages are set afire. The allusion zot. Zero; nothing; a loser, 
is to Zippo cigarette lighters. 

zulu. A casualty report. 
Zippo squad. A squad that conducts a 


Sources and Acknowledgments 

American advisers to this chapter have been Charles D. Poe of Houston, Texas, military-slang 
expert Frank Hailey, Russell Mott, Charles Moss, and Joseph C. Goulden. Mr. Poe has supplied 
hundreds of references from fiction and nonfiction of the Vietnam period to put the terms in 
context. Author Richard Herman helped with terms in this and the next two chapters. 

Books about Vietnam with useful glossaries include Mark Baker's Nam (Berkley Books, 
1981); Stanley W. Beesley's The Heartland Remembers (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 
John M. Del Vecchio's The 13th Valley (Bantam, 1982); Bernard Edelman's Dear America: 
Letters Home From Vietnam (Pocket Books, 1985); Jack Hawkins's Chopper 1: #2 Tunnel War- 
riors (Ivy Books, 1987); Eric Helm's The Scorpion Squad #2: The Nhu Sky Sting (Pinnacle 
Books, 1984) Iron Triangle (Worldwide Library, 1988) and P.O.W. (Worldwide Library, 1986); 
Al Santoli's Everything We Had (Ballantine Books, 1981); Wallace Terry's Bloods (Ballantine, 
1984); Lynda Van Devanter's Home Before Morning (Beaufort Books, 1983); and James Webb's 
Fields of Fire (Bantam, 1978). 

Two important early dictionaries are Frank A. Hailey's Soldier Talk (Irving Publishing Co., 
1982) and A Dictionary of Soldier Talk by Col. John R. Elting, Sgt. Maj. Dan Cragg, and Sgt. 
Ernest Deal (Charles Scribner's, 1984). Two major works that are recent are Linda Reinberg's 
In the Field: The Language of the Vietnam War (Facts on File, 1991) and Gregory R. Clark's 
Words of the Vietnam War (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 1990). 

Other books with good linguistic insight include William C. Anderson's Bat 21 (Bantam, 
1980); Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War (Ballantine, 1977); Harold Coyle's Team Yankee (Berkley, 
1987); Col. David H. Hackworth's About Face (with Julie Sherman, Simon and Schuster, 1989); 
Eric Hammel's Khe Sanh: Siege in the Clouds (1989); Richard Harman, Jr.'s The Warbirds 
(Avon, 1989); Myra MacPherson's Long Time Passing (Signet, 1984); Dennis J. Marvicsin and 
Jerold A. Greenfield's Maverick (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1990); Shelby L. Stanton's The Rise and 
Fall of an American Army (Dell, 1985); and John Trotti's Phantom Over Vietnam (Berkley, 



Grains of "Sandspeak" from the War That Was on Every 


Some of it is new. Some of it is old. But an ofttimes bewildering wartime 
vocabulary is evolving in the desert of Saudi Arabia . . . Even veterans of 
military service just 20 or 30 years ago find they are woefully out of date 
on terminology and slang. 

— Jeffrey Ulbrich, in the Columbia Missourian, January 21, 1991 

It was a short and decisive war with its own feel and spirit. It was marked 
by technological derring-do and by success in the air, on the sea, and on the 
ground. Above all, it was unsullied by significant numbers of allied deaths. 

The Gulf War also produced a body of slang and other terminology that 
was documented at every turn. The recording of this new lingo — a "Persian 
patois," as one writer dubbed it — was significantly aided and abetted by the 
relatively long period during which a corps of close to a thousand reporters 
waited with the troops for the ground war to begin. There were just so many 
things that one could report on during this long eve of war, and one of those 
things was the language of the conflict. 

Some complained that the combat was made to sound like a bloodless 
bureaucratic exercise rather than a war, and some of the new official jargon 
tended to validate that judgment. The person sent out to tell a family of the 
death of a son or daughter was called a "casualty assistance coordinator," a 
bullet hole in a human being became a "ballistically induced aperture in the 
subcutaneous environment," the destruction of Iraqi antiaircraft weaponry 


was referred to as "suppressing assets," and then there was the politically 
correct "cultural bonding officer" who was nothing more than a person whose 
job it was to prevent G.I.'s from offending their Saudi hosts. 

One writer suggested that if the famous World War II message, "Sighted 
sub, sank same," had been translated for this war it would have been, "Locked 
onto asset, visited, acquired." An editorial cartoonist for the Boston GJobe 
drew a "Gulf War Word Quiz," in which one was to match phrases in one 
column ("pounding positions," "softening up," "collateral damage," "satura- 
tion strikes," and "carpet bombing") with their correct meanings in another 
column. All of the correct meanings read, "killing." 

Editorializing in The New York Times, Eric Zicklin made the point that 
is made in every war: that what we do and what the enemy does are described 
in very different ways — for instance, "that a 'war crime' is a bare knuckled 
beating but that dropping loads of explosives on a nation's capital is called a 
'sortie'" and "that 'collateral damage' means civilians in the enemy's country 
die while terrorist attacks are when civilians in an allied country die." 

Columnist Clarence Page, writing in the Washington Times for December 
5, 1991, makes the point that the colorized jargon of the military had become 
"more colorful than ever" in this conflict. After pointing out that bombing 
runs had been called "servicing the site" or "visiting a site," he writes: "Dur- 
ing these visits 'hard' and 'soft' targets, otherwise known as buildings and 
human beings, were 'degraded,' 'neutralized,' 'attrited,' 'suppressed,' 'elimi- 
nated,' 'cleansed,' 'sanitized,' 'impacted,' 'decapitated' and 'taken out.'" He 
adds that these things were likely to occur during a "healthy day of bombing." 

On top of all of this were new issues of sexism and correctness. Jamie Ann 
Conway, an Army captain, in a February 18, 1991, letter to The New York 
Times strongly disagreed with that newspaper's "continued use of the term 

While the slang terms that emerged from this theater in the sand may have 
lacked political correctness, for the most part they also lacked the bitterness 
and anger of Vietnam. Here is what this conflict sounded like. 

300 • WAR SLANG 

• * A * * 

A.A.F. Allied air forces. 

Abdul. An Arab male. This term dates 
from at least World War I, when it was 
used by British troops generically for a 
Turkish soldier. 

A.C.M. Air combat maneuvering (i.e., 
maneuvers made to put a fighter plane 
in firing position). 

ctdopt-a-pilot. The urge experiened by 
ground troops to cheer for aviators, who 
would presumably soften up the resist- 
ance to a ground invasion. 

A.F.V. Armored fighting vehicle. This is 
essentially a tank with tires rather than 
treads, used to haul Marines into battle. 

air-breathing. Jet-propelled. The jet- 
powered Tomahawk missile was often 
described as "air-breathing." The term 
contrasts with "internal combustion." 

AirLand warfare. A tactical doctrine 
created in the 1970s (and which, as The 
New York Times notes, "the Army eccen- 
trically persists in spelling as one word") 
that first came into play in this conflict. 
It calls for concentrating the heaviest fire 
on an enemy's rear lines, to cripple 
tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles be- 
fore they can come into play. 

airplane driver. A pilot. 

airwing Alpo. A field ration that in- 
cludes corned beef hash and meatballs 
with barbecue sauce; from the name of a 
popular brand of dog food. 

ALICE. All-purpose lightweight individ- 
ual carrying equipment (a medium-sized 
backpack with a frame). 

all-terrain vehicle. Any rental vehicle 
used by a Gulf War journalist. 

Amazing Grace. Army cavalry's 63- 
ton tank. 

angels. Altitude (e.g., "Angels 25" re- 
fers to an aircraft flying at 25,000 feet). 
See also under the Cold War. 

Antichrist, the. Defense Secretary Dick 
Cheney (as characterized by reservists, 
after he increased the call-up of reserve 

any sailor / any soldier. The ad- 
dressee on a large number of letters for- 
warded to servicemen in the war zone. 
Not all the letters were as striking as one 
from a "Georgetta," of Rockville, Indiana, 
which arrived on the battleship Wiscon- 
sin and was reported on in the Washing- 
ton Times: "I couldn't understand why 
my husband was doing drugs and did 
not want to go home all the time. I 
thought I could solve it by throwing gas 
and a match on him. He didn't die, but 
he has to live the rest of his life with the 
scars. . . . That is how I know that Jesus 
is real." 

Elisabeth Hickey, who wrote the report 
on this remarkable pen pal, concluded 
her article with this line: "The sailors 
now believe this is proof that one should 
not answer letters from women with in- 
mate numbers on their return address." 

area denial weapon. A cluster bomb 
that creates great damage in a confined 
area, thus denying its use to the enemy. 

artichoke suit. The brown and green 
"woodland" b.d.u. (work and combat 

arty. Artillery. See also divarty. 

ashtray. The desert; because ashtrays 
in hotels and military institutions are 
filled with sand. 

A.T. Antitank 

(i.e., any antitank 

attrit. To reduce the number of troops 
in a military force, as a result of hostili- 
ties or by any other means. The term de- 
rives from the noun "attrition." 

The verb was first noted by a 1961 is- 
sue of American Speech, after being 
spotted in an Air Force publication. It 
was used during the Vietnam War, as in 
this line from an unnamed American of- 
ficial, quoted in Time of August 28, 1972: 
"If we can attrit the population base of 
the Viet Cong, it will accelerate the pro- 
cess of degrading the VC." In televised 
briefings attendant to this war, Lieuten- 
ant General Thomas Kelly, operations di- 
rector for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used 
the word often. 

The very sound of the verb was enough 
to touch off editorial comment, such as 
this by Charles E. Claffey in the Boston 
Globe for January 29, 1991: "To the pur- 
ist, attrit registers as discordantly as a 
Spike Jones recording. Nonetheless, its 
increasing usage in war-related news sto- 
ries in the print media and on television 
and radio broadcasts is lending it seman- 
tic legitimacy. Language is nothing if not 
accommodating. " 


• * B * * 

BACK drill. A mnemonic device for re- 
minding potential P.O.W.'s of the four 
"don'ts" of capitivity: "B" is for "bow- 
ing" (don't do it in public); "A" is for 
"air" (no on-air broadcasts); "C" is for 
"crimes" (never admit to any); and "K" 
is for "kiss" (don't kiss your captors 

Baghdad Betty. An "Iraqi female disc 
jockey who became a favorite among the 
troops" (according to E. M. Flanagan, Jr., 
writing in the November 1991 Army 

Baghdad boil. Leishmaniasis (a skin 
disease transmitted by sandflies). 

Baghdad Buffoon. Saddam Hussein. 

bandit. An enemy aircraft. 

bang out. 


To eject oneself from an air- 

battle winner. See deadly dozen. 

B.C.D. Bad conduct discharge (face- 
tiously renamed "big chicken dinner"). 

B.C.D.'s. Birth-control devices; a face- 
tious name for military-issue spectacles, 
which were deemed so ugly as to dis- 
courage potential mates. They were 
also known as "B.C.G.'s" (birth-control 

B.D.A. Bomb damage assessment. 

B.D.U.'s. Battle dress utility (or "battle 
dress uniform"). This is a soldier's war 

302 • WAR SLANG 

and work clothes; they were formerly 
known as fatigues. 

beach. The desert; fighting terrain (i.e., 
the boondocks; see under the Spanish- 
American War era). 

Beagle. The F-15E jet fighter. 

Bear, the. General H. Norman Schwarz- 
kopf (the U.S. commander); is also 
known as "Stormin' Norman." 

Bedrock. A gigantic U.S. tent city in 
Saudi Arabia; from the name of cartoon 
character Fred Flintstone's home town. 
The mess tent was known as "Dino's 
Diner"; from Dino, the Flintstones' pet 

big blue 82. The BLU-82 (a 12,540- 
pound bomb that created tremendous 
blast overpressure); also called "daisy 

big chicken dinner. See 

big red. The brutal desert sun (as in, 
"Me and big red don't get along real 

Big Six in the Sky. God. See six. 

bimp. A Soviet-made infantry fighting 
vehicle; from its official designation, 

black hole, the. The complex of under- 
ground rooms under Saudi air force 
headquarters in Riyadh where allied per- 
sonnel analyzed and selected targets. 

blooper. A 40-mm grenade launcher; 
the soldier detailed to fire it. The term 

derives from the distinctive sound that 
the weapon makes when fired. 

blowboat. A hovercraft (e.g., the LACV- 
30 [large air-cushion vehicle]). 

blower. An afterburner in a jet engine. 

blue on blue. Fire accidentally di- 
rected at troops on one's own side. The 
term stems from NATO exercises, where 
the opposing forces were "blue" and 
"red." It is another term for friendly fire. 

B.M.O. Black moving object (i.e., a 
black-robed Saudi woman with her face 
veiled by the traditional black ctbeyah). 

B.M.P. See bimp. 

B/N. A bomber/navigator (i.e., the per- 
son who sits next to or behind the pilot 
in a two-seater aircraft). 

Bob. (1) A Bedouin; an Iraqi. (2) Saudi 
(an adjective, as in, "Bob car, Bob clothes 
and the like," according to Army mag- 

boghammers. Small gunboat. 

bogus. The reality of the war zone (as 
in, "This place is bogus"). Perhaps the 
term represents a modern incarnation of 
the assertion, "War is hell." 

bolo badge. A Purple Heart (the medal 
awarded to soldiers wounded in com- 
bat). The term was most likely to be ap- 
plied when the wound was, in the words 
used in a New York Times dispatch, 
"foolishly acquired." See also bolo, 
under the Vietnam War. 


boloed. Destroyed; killed. 

bone dome. A Kevlar helmet. This 
high-tech helmet became standard 
equipment during this conflict. 

boogie out of Dodge. To move out of 
a dangerous position. This quote from a 
Marine captain appeared in the Boston 
Globe: "We move in quick* hit hard and 
then boogie out of Dodge. By the time he 
hits back, we ain't there." See also get 
the hell out of dodge, under the Viet- 
nam War. 

boot-top— level morale. The low mo- 
rale of the Iraqis awaiting battle in their 
desert bunkers. 

bouncing betty. A shrapnel-filled mine 
that pops up a few feet out of the sand 
and then explodes. An article in the Feb- 
ruary 9, 1991, Witchita Eagle had this 
comment on the mine: "A Marine officer 
said they reduced their victims to 'a red 
mist in the air.'" 

The bouncing betty can also be fired 
from howitzers. It hits the ground, jumps 
into the air, and explodes at stomach 

bovine scatology. Bullshit (as re- 
phrased by the U.S. commander, General 
H. Norman Schwarzkopf). 

box out. To exclude; from the defensive 
maneuver of boxing out in basketball, in 
which one positions oneself in front of 
another player when jockeying for po- 

BUFF. Big ugly fat fucker (i.e., the B-52 
bomber). A number of war glossaries in 

family newspapers reported that this 
stood for "big ugly fat fellow." An oft- 
quoted line on this veteran aircraft was: 
"The most accurate weapon we have — 
its bombs always hit the ground." It also 
prompted this riddle: 

Q: What was the last number in Sad- 
dam Hussein's bingo game? 

A: B-52. 

bull. A bull's-eye when bombing a tar- 
get; see also shack. 

bullet-stopper. A Marine; a Navy term. 

bunkering. Searching Iraqi bunkers for 
goods and war souvenirs. 

* c 


Cadillac. The M-l Abrams tank. 

camel meat. An unappetizing entree. 

camel spider. A tarantula. 

camies. Camouflaged clothing. 

cank. See c.n.x. 

cannon cocker. An artilleryman. 

carpet bombing. Intensive bombing of 
a limited area, usually by B-52's (i.e., lay- 
ing a wall-to-wall carpet of high explo- 
sives). On January 27, 1991, General H. 
Norman Schwarzkopf denied knowledge 
of this term ("I don't know what it 
means," he said), because it connoted in- 
discriminate bombing. As William Satire 
noted in his language column in The 
New York Times Magazine for February 

304 • WAR SLANG 

3, 1991: "Reporters like the term carpet 
bombing, a dysphemism for 'bombing in 
a close pattern to destroy a large area 
rather than specific targets.' (A dysphe- 
mism, obviously, is the opposite of a eu- 

The term can be traced back to the end 
of World War II, when it referred to satu- 
ration bombing used to clear the area for 
advancing ground troops. In the Vietnam 
War, it was called "rolling thunder." 

cell. A group of bombers, usually con- 
sisting of three planes. 

check six. Looking directly behind to 
make sure an enemy aircraft is not fol- 
lowing; a reference to the "o'clock" sys- 
tem that pilots use to indicate direction. 
Twelve o'clock is directly in front, and 
six o'clock is directly behind. 

cheese. To curry favor with a superior. 

cheese dick. A person who curries fa- 
vor with superiors; also called a 

chem lights. Six-inch-long plastic tubes 
that glow in the dark by means of a 
chemical reaction. 

chocolate chips / chocolate chip 
cookie / chocolate chip suit. A desert 
camouflage uniform; from the randomly 
distributed chocolaty brown spots on a 
tan background, giving the uniform a 
strong resemblance to baked cookies 
from home. 

chu-hoi. Enemy troops who surrender. 
The term is defined in New York News- 
day for March 7, 1991: "In the gulf con- 

flict, GIs have used this phrase frequently 
in regard to the thousands of Iraqi sol- 
diers who have surrendered in Kuwait 
and Iraq. It's Vietnamese for 'surrender' 
and was picked up by U.S. troops during 
that war." 

C. I . B . Combat Infantryman's Badge. The 
blue medal is given to Army infantrymen 
who come under fire. It is much prized; 
as Harry Levins noted in the St. Louis 
Post-Dispatch of January 27, 1991: "non- 
infantrymen tend to sulk because the 
rules exclude them from getting one." 
See also under the Vietnam War. 

CINC [pronounced "sink"]. Commander 
in chief. 

CINCENT [pronounced "sink-ent"]. Com- 
mander in Chief Central Command. This 
term was used by the troops to refer to 
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. 

C.N.N, complex. A condition resulting 
from watching too much of the twenty- 
four-hour war coverage. The term was 
created by a psychologist, who applied 
it to families with loved ones in the gulf. 
It comes from the initialism for the Cable 
News Network, which provided much of 
the war coverage for Americans and 
many others worldwide. 

C.N.X. Cancel (in military code). Troops 
pronounced the term "cank"; there was 
much talk of the war being "canked." 

coaxe. Coaxial (i.e., a secondary wea- 
pon configured to fire along with a main 
weapon). The coaxial is usually a ma- 
chine gun matched with a larger-caliber 


"Cold, cold, smoked the bitch." A pi- 
lot's report on shooting down an Iraqi 

collateral damage. Civilian casualties 
(in euphemistic Pentagonese). This term 
had been in use for many years in discus- 
sions of nuclear war, but it came into its 
own during the daily press briefings in 
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to describe the ef- 
fects of the allied air war against Iraq. 

The term is included in an article by 
R. W. Apple, Jr., in The New York Times 
of February 4, 1991: 

There are obvious cultural differences 
. . . between the highly disciplined mili- 
tary men, with their odd words and 
phrases like "attrit" for "wear down" and 
"collateral damage" for "civilian casual- 
ties," and the reporters, who make their 
living by questioning authority and 
doubting official pronouncements. To 
them, Pentagonese is a laughable language. 

crank. To start; to get going. The term 
applies to both machines and humans. 

crash-bang. A stun grenade (especially 
the kind that temporarily blinds as well 
as incapacitates); also known as a 

C-rat. A field ration (even though the 
C-ration had been replaced by the m.r.e.). 
A Marine told a reporter from the Boston 
Globe: "Rock 'n' roll is C-rats for the 

crease. To wound (as in, "We just 
creased him, and all it did was make 
him mad"). 

cuff 'em and stuff 'em. A policy of 
quickly detaining and transporting non- 

combatants who might get in the way of 
military operations. Speaking of an area 
adjoining the Kuwaiti border, a military 
policeman told a reporter for the Wash- 
ington Post: "No one gets in, not even 
Bedouins looking for their sheep. If they 
give us trouble we cuff 'em and stuff 

cultural bonding officer. An officer 
whose job it was to prevent soldiers from 
offending their Saudi hosts. Here are two 
descriptions of this job: "a military Miss 
Manners" and "a doctor of civil graces 
assigned to prevent outbreaks of the dis- 
ease Uglius Americanus among U.S. per- 
sonnel in the Gulf." 

• it D * * 
daisy cutter. See big blue 82. 

dampen down. To slow; to minimize 
(as in, "dampening down of expecta- 
tions," often heard in briefings). The 
term derives from firefighting, where it 
refers to the process of wetting (dampen- 
ing) material so that it does not catch 

dance of the whales. The maneuver- 
ing of oil tankers in the gulf as they line 
up to form a convoy. 

deadly dozen. The Multi-Launched 
Rocket System (a conventional weapon 
capable of tearing up an area the size of a 
dozen football fields). In the Washington 
Times of February 7, 1991, it was called 
"the most powerful conventional artil- 
lery weapon in the world. A single shot 
from its firing system can destroy city 

306 • WAR SLANG 

blocks." The weapon was also known as 
the "battle winner," "grid buster," and 
"grid square removal service." 

Dear John letter. A letter from one's 
wife or sweetheart informing one that 
the relationship is over. See also under 
World War II. 

Death Row / Death Row Highway. A 

long, narrow road south of the Iraqi bor- 
der from which allied troops staged their 
invasion and their eventual march into 
Kuwait. A large number of Iraqis were 
killed and equipment destroyed in allied 
air attacks prior to the invasion. The 
road was also known as "Suicide Road" 

and M.S.R. DODGE. 

decapitating attack. An attack on en- 
emy commanders behind the lines. This 
leapfrogs the masses of enemy tanks, ar- 
tillery, and fortified positions that make 
traditional warfare slow and costly. 

deconflict. To ensure that attacking air- 
craft don't interfere (or conflict) with 
one another. 

degrade. To run down; to pulverize. 
The term is usually applied to a target. 

desert cherry. A new soldier; from the 
general use of the term "cherry" for a 

Desert Express. A military special- 
delivery system for parts. The name is 
based on the assertion that this was "the 
Federal Express of the Military Airlift 

Desert Shield. See operation desert 
shield. The term was also used playfully, 

as defined in Army magazine: "Anything 
that protects a soldier from the blowing 

Desert Shield bar. A heat-resistant 
chocolate bar produced by Hershey 

dinkie. A military version of a two- 
seater dune buggie; also known as an 
"F.A.V." (Fast Attack Vehicle). 

Dino's Diner. See bedrock. 

D.I. P. Die in place. According to Cap- 
tain Joseph M. Michael, it means to "de- 
fend this position no matter what the 

divarty. Division artillery. 

Diver. Charles Jaco, a Cable News Net- 
work reporter (because of his dives off 
camera during scud missile alerts). 

dogs. Feet. One soldier who served in 
the gulf advised, "Don't do them right 
and they'll bark at you." 

dog someone out. To criticize; to 

Dolly Parton. The "Assad Babyle" Iraqi 
tank (a version of the Soviet T-72 tank); 
named in honor of the buxom country 
singer because of its rounded reinforced 
turret. It was also known as "super 
Dolly Parton." 

do-mode. The condition of being busy 
or working on solutions; from the mod- 
ern military proclivity to describe equip- 
ment according to its mode of operation. 

do-rag. A bandanna or scarf worn over 
the head and tied at the back, in lieu of 
regulation headgear. 

Double Ugly. The F-4G fighter; also 
known as "Rhino" and the "Wild Wea- 
sel." The aircraft's main mission is to 
take electronic-warfare countermeasures 
to blind enemy radar. 

down under. A homemade beer cre- 
ated by Australian troops in the gulf; 
from the nickname for Australia, 
"Down Under." 

dozens, the. A game in which insults 
are traded, often between troops of differ- 
ent races and ethnic backgrounds. A 
Washington Post article of May 19, 1991, 
on troops returned from the gulf con- 
tained this demonstration of the dozens: 
"And so 'the dozens' usually begins, 
with the men of this racially mixed 
Army platoon blowing off steam and 
laughing as they lob verbal grenades 
at each other: redneck, bubba, chink, 
half-breed, Klan-tucky, grape-ape, or 

driver. (1) A pilot. (2) A Navy officer 
who serves as officer of the deck. 

dumb bomb. A conventional bomb 
(i.e., a bomb whose trajectory depends 
only on gravity). The term was created 
to distinguish such a bomb from a laser- 
guided SMART BOMB. 

dune goon. 

the desert. 

An Iraqi soldier fighting in 


* * E * * 

Eagle. The F-15A, F-15B, F-15C, and 
F-15D fighters, but not the F-15E, which 
is known as the "Beagle." 

echelons beyond reality. Higher com- 
mand (the source of orders and direc- 
tives). The term suggests that higher 
command was out of touch with reality. 

E.C.U. Environmental control unit (i.e., 
a tent); an Air Force term. This was one 
of those terms that seemed truly prepos- 
terous to outsiders covering the war. "A 
tent?" asked the Boston Globe in a report 
of January 30, 1991. "No, the Air Force 
will say, sneering at the plebeian sound 
of the word. Their alternative, on display 
in the Arabian desert, is called the 'envi- 
ronmental control unit.' Honest." 

In fact, the desert-tan tents came 
equipped with heat pumps to create air- 
conditioning in the summer and heat in 
the winter. 

eight-charge. Eighty pounds of black 
powder trussed in a canvas satchel. This 
antiarmor howitzer package was used by 
the Marines. 

Electric Jet. The F-16 fighter-bomber; 
also called the "Fighting Falcon," "Lawn 
Dart," and "Viper." 

el-tee / L-T. Lieutenant; a term of ad- 
dress often used with a hint of the sar- 

Emerald City. King Khalid Military 
City, Saudi Arabia; from the Emerald 
City of Oz in L. Frank Baum's novels 
for children. 

308 • WAR SLANG 

entrenching tool. A shovel. It was 
often described mockingly in full Penta- 
gonese by the troops: "Tool, entrenching, 
one each." 

E.P.W. Enemy prisoner of war. During 
the gulf crisis more than one commenta- 
tor noted that this term was reserved for 
Iraqi prisoners, while allied prisoners 
were still known as P.O.W.'s. Eric Schmitt 
of The New York Times, in a report from 
Riyadh of February 18, 1991, wrote that 
"E.P.W." was "a term that replaced P.O.W. 
in the Pentagon lexicon after the Viet- 
nam War to avoid the association with 
American service members still listed as 
missing in Southeast Asia." 

Escan Village. Quarters for troops sta- 
tioned in Riyadh. The village was a com- 
pound of town houses and high-rises 
originally built for Bedouins, who re- 
fused to live there, preferring the desert. 
Though the living quarters were bright 
stucco buildings with marble floors and 
modern conveniences, soldiers began us- 
ing the term "Escan Village" ironically, 
for that which could never be a paradise, 
despite the amenities. 

extract. To recover or pick up (as when 
a helicopter "extracts" a special opera- 
tions unit from the desert). 

• -it F 


face-shot. An air-to-air missile fired at 
an enemy aircraft; also known as "in 
the lips." 

F.A.E. Fuel-air explosive. This terror 
weapon covers a large area with a com- 

bustible liquid and then ignites it; it is a 
1990s version of the napalm bomb used 
in Vietnam. Iraq was believed to have 
F.A.E.'s, but none were ever employed, al- 
though a U.S. version was used, osten- 
sibly to clear minefields. It was seen as 
an especially horrible weapon in the 
hands of Iraq, acquiring the moniker 
"the poor man's nuclear weapon." Here 
is how it was described in The New York 
Times of January 24, 1991: "Saddam 
Hussein might be planning to use a . . . 
horrific weapon, never before employed 
in combat, known as the fuel air bomb, 
which spreads a circle of fire." 

fangs out. Excited; about to make a 
kill. The allusion is to a serpent. 

fast mover. (1) A high-performance jet 
aircraft. (2) The M-l Abrams tank. (3) 
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle. 

F.A.V. Fast Attack Vehicle. See dinkie. 

F.B.W. Fly by wire (i.e., flying by instru- 

feet dry. Describing an aircraft crossing 
from sea to land; radio code. 

feet wet. Describing an aircraft cross- 
ing from land to sea; radio code. 

Fido. A pet scorpion. 

field expedient. Doing what's neces- 
sary to get the job done. Captain Joseph 
W. Michael defined the term: "Generally 
creating something or performing some 
task in some non-typical and innovative 


Fighting Falcon. The F-16 fighter- 
bomber; also called the "Electric Jet," 
"Lawn Dart," and "Viper." 

fitter. The Soviet-built SU-22 fighter 
plane. Like most other NATO weapons 
nicknames, this one has nothing to do 
with the characteristics of the weapon. 

fizzog. One's face (as in, "Clean your 
fizzog"). This British military slang was 
picked up by Americans. It derives from 
"physiognomy" (the outward appear- 
ance of one's face). 

flash-bang. See crash-bang. 

FLIR. Front-looking infrared. This is a 
system that fits on the nose of some air- 
planes and presents a TV-like image to 

flyby. A missile that misses its mark 
(e.g., a scud that falls harmlessly into the 
Persian Gulf). 

force package. A military aircraft 
armed with a combination of missiles 
and bombs that represents a significant 
degree of force, in the language of the De- 
partment of Defense. Derided by those 
who felt it made a lethal weapon sound 
like a laxative. 

for the duration. The period of a sol- 
dier's stay in the gulf during the conflict. 
It replaced deros (see under the Vietnam 
War). As explained in Newsweek: "Since 
the troops are not being rotated, as 
in Vietnam, there is no DEROS." The 
phrase was first used during World War I. 

fox. A missile fired by an aircraft. "Fox 
one" means that the first missile fired hit 

its target; "fox two" means that the sec- 
ond missile fired hit its target; and so 

foxtrot. Fuck; fucking; etc. This stand- 
in for the obscenity is alphabet code for 
the letter "F." 

foxtrot bravo. Fucking bastard; from 
alphabet code for "F.B." 

fratricide. The accidental shooting 
down of a friendly aircraft. Of course, 
"fratricide" in standard English is the act 
of killing. See also mort themselves out. 

freelance. To go out independently in 
a rented vehicle in hopes of getting inter- 
views and seeing action. The term was 
applied to journalists unable to get into 
the official pools created by the Pen- 

friendly fire. Fire accidentally directed 
at troops on one's own side. In this war, 
thirty-nine deaths and seventy-two inju- 
ries were attributed to such incidents, 
proving the adage, "Friendly fire isn't." 
See also under the Vietnam War. 

frog. Free rocket over ground (an Iraqi 
weapon). A "frog site" was a point from 
which the Iraqis would launch such a 

frogfoot. An Iraqi attack airplane (offi- 
cially known by its Soviet designation, 
SU-25). The plane is similar to an Ameri- 
can plane, the A-10 Thunderbolt. At the 
beginning of the conflict, Iraq had about 
sixty of the aircraft. The term "frogfoot" 
was originally a NATO designation and 
had no relationship to the characteristics 
of the plane. 

310 * WAR SLANG 



The frenzy of air combat; a dog- 

• it G * * 

G-day. The day the allies' ground offen- 
sive began. 

get your gut right. To eat. 

ghost rider. A pilot who flew an 
F-117A Stealth aircraft by night and 
slept by day. 

giant viper. A long explosives-filled 
hose that explodes mines as it snakes 
across a mined area. 

goat rope. A confused situation (as one 
would experience trying to rope goats). 

go chemical. To be subjected to a 
chemical attack. The possibility was 
feared for a number of reasons, including 
the fact that scud missiles could deliver 
chemical weapons. 

golden B.B. / golden bullet. The So- 
viet antiaircraft doctrine of putting 
enough ordnance in the air to virtually 
guarantee some hits. In the gulf conflict 
the term was used derisively, to charac- 
terize the Iraqis' emulation of Soviet anti- 
aircraft defenses. See also under the 
Vietnam War. 

go MOPP. See mopp. 

gone Elvis. Lost; missing in action. The 
reference to Elvis Presley derives from 
the highly publicized and continued 
"sightings" of Elvis after his death. 

go 911. To panic or become terrified; 
from the 911 emergency telephone 

GOO. Gulf of Oman (as in, "sailing 
through the GOO"). 

good grab. Any delectable native Bed- 
ouin food. 

good to go. Fit; competent; ready to 
perform. As reported in a January 31, 
1991, article in the Washington Times, 
"Grunt Slang," by Elisabeth Hickey and 
Michael Hedges: "Journalists who had 
spent one too many seasons straddling a 
chair and punctuating their work with 
doughnuts and then arrived here want- 
ing to go to the front were considered not 
'good to go' by the military." 

goofy goggles. Night vision goggles 
(because they made the wearer look so 

gorilla cookie. A cake packed in the 
m.r.e. field ration. 

go sludding. To suffer the effects of 
chemical warfare. The acronym "slud" 
stands for "salivates, lachrymates, uri- 
nates, defecates." 

grease. (1) Food. (2) To kill (as during 
the Vietnam War). In the gulf, the term 
was used mostly in the sense of being 
killed (as in, "Anything you do can get 
you greased, including doing nothing"). 

grid square 


removal service. See 

ground pounder. An infantryman. 

grunt. An infantryman. Harry Levins, 
in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of January 
27, 1991, had this to say about the use of 
this term in the gulf: "'Grunt' dates from 
Vietnam; until the desert deployment, it 
was being shouldered aside by 'mud sol- 
dier.' But the desert has little mud." 

Not everyone in the gulf earned the 
title. Just back from the gulf, Captain Jo- 
seph W. Michael wrote down these 
definitions for "grunt": 

Army: combat arms — tankers, artil- 
lerymen, and infantry. 

Marine Corps: virtually all. 

The term pertains to the highly devel- 
oped vocabulary skills of soldiers and Ma- 
rines, who endure more hardship for less 
benefit than anyone. 

See also under the Vietnam War. 

guest. An Iraqi prisoner brought into 
Saudi Arabia (because they were to be 
treated as guests of the Saudi govern- 
ment). According to the February 2, 
1991, Albuquerque Tribune: "For reli- 
gious and political reasons, the Saudi 
government does not want to offend 
other Moslems by treating the Iraqis as 
prisoners and causing them to lose face." 

gulfspeak. Euphemistic language used 
by officials giving briefings. 

gut ripper. An antipersonnel mine or 
grenade (used by either side) that pops 
up and explodes at stomach level. Such 
weapons have been called the "scourge 
of the infantryman." A U.S. version of a 
gut ripper is the bouncing betty. 


• it H * * 

hail mary. The secret movement of 
more than two U.S. corps into western 
Saudi Arabia to deliver a flanking ham- 
mer blow against the Iraqi army. It was 
successfully executed, with the simulta- 
neous advance of allied troops into 

The term derives from the name of a 
football play and was used by American 
commander General H. Norman 
Schwarzkopf as a code phrase. In foot- 
ball, the hail mary is a play in which the 
quarterback sends all his receivers to- 
ward the end zone and throws the ball 
in their direction, hoping that one of 
them will catch it and score. In football, 
it is a desperation play. Oddly, the use 
of this football term was inappropriate, 
because Schwarzkopf's strategy was 
carefully based on a position of strength 
while the hail mary play in football is an 
act born of desperation near the end of a 
game by a team that is behind. 

hair on fire. Excited. 

hard target. A building or a military 
installation. A "soft target" is a human 

hasty. A shallow, quickly dug foxhole; 
also known as a "run and dive." 

hawk. The cold experienced in north- 
ern Saudi Arabia in the winter of 1991. 
One dispatch defined it as "a piercing 
chill that cuts through the flesh to the 
bone with a talon-like grip." Para- 
troopers have long used this term for 
cold weather, as in Harold Coyle's Sword 

312 • WAR SLANG 

Point (1988): "As if on cue, the ramp be- 
hind Evans began to open, letting in the 
cold night air, known to paratroopers as 
'the Hawk."' 

headache. A journalist. 

headquarters pukes. Support staff in 
noncombat areas. 

heat tab. The hot desert sun; more 
commonly known as "nature's heat tab." 
The term derives from the heat tablet 
used to warm beverages. 

heavy metal. Heavy artillery; naval 
guns; etc. The term derives from a form 
of rock 'n' roll popular among the sol- 
diers in the gulf. 

hellacious. Extremely violent. The term 
was used to describe the occupation of 
Kuwait and various other combat situ- 
ations during the war. This civilian slang 
imported to the gulf by American troops 
infatuated the British press, as can be 
seen in this headline: "Marines Die in 
'Hellacious' Land Battle." 

high speed, low drag. An all-purpose 
expression of approbation. According to 
Time of February 25, 1991, this was a 
phrase "indicating that an operation 
went exactly according to plan." The 
Washington Post of February 9, 1991, de- 
fined the phrase: "Paratroopers' term for 
something impressive." Captain Joseph 
W. Michael gives the phrase this no- 
nonsense definition: "Fast, sexy, and/or 
real good." 

him. Saddam Hussein. 

hip shooting. The movement of artil- 
lery from position to position, firing at 
each stop. The term for this U.S. offen- 
sive tactic derives from the method of 
quickly firing a pistol. The practice is 
also known as "shoot and scoot." 

hog. The A-10 aircraft; from warthog. 

home plate. The airfield where a flight 
originated and to which it will return. 
The term derives from baseball — a batter 
begins at home plate and scores a run by 
returning there after a trip around the 

Homer. A member of the Iraqi armed 
forces (either an enlisted man or an 
officer); apparently, an allusion to the 
bumbling television cartoon character 
Homer Simpson. 

homes. A friend; from "homeboy." The 
plural is "homies." 

hoo-ah / ooh rah / urah / yeehah. An 
all-purpose expression of enthusiasm for 
almost any situation in which the 
speaker is alive and well. For instance, it 
was almost invariably used to greet mail 
call. It was termed "the signature call of 
the American forces" by the Houston 
Post. The expression was used to great 
effect by Al Pacino in the 1992 film The 
Scent of a Woman. 

hooch. A tent. This usage dates from 
the Vietnam War. 

hoo-yah. The war; combat. 

hot turn. See quick-turn burn. 


human remains pouch. A body bag 

(see under the Vietnam War). 

The term was upsetting to some, in- 
cluding Oregon senator Mark O. Hatfield, 
who felt that the Pentagon was trying to 
put the war into a tidy little linguistic 
package. His reaction to the term was 
quoted in the Boston Globe of January 
24, 1991: "That ['body bag'] is too messy. 
That conjures up all the wrong images, of 
blood and pain and suffering. Now body 
bags are called human remains pouches. 
There, America, does that make you feel 
any better?" 

human shield. A hostage taken to a 
military site to dissuade attacks. This 
was done by the besieged Iraqi govern- 
ment early in the air war, and it became 
the main source of American outrage. 

humma. Et cetera; whatever. 

Hummer. The Hawkeye early-warning 

humvee / hummer. High-mobility multi- 
purpose wheeled vehicle (H.M.M.W.V.). 
The vehicle was the successor to the jeep 
and the most common military vehicle 
in the gulf. It was diesel powered and 
was bigger and faster than the jeep. Don 
Kirkman, of Scripps-Howard News Serv- 
ice, wrote about the vehicle: "President 
Bush's Thanksgiving dinner was served 
on the hood of a Hummer. Bob Hope and 
his troupe of entertainers bounced from 
base to base in Hummers. The humble 
Hummer seems to be in the background 
of every news clip about troops in the 
field." Less commonly used as a nick- 
name for the Navy's Hawkeye early-warn- 
ing aircraft. 

hunker down. To cower and dig in (i.e., 
what the Iraqi army did during the allied 
bombing); a term of derision. The term 
made its own news when CBS reporter 
Bob McKeown reported from Kuwait 
City during its liberation that he and a 
band of Marines were hunkered down 
near the U.S. embassy. Anchor Dan 
Rather, reporting from Saudi Arabia, 
jumped in with this line: "I smile when 
I say U.S. Marines do not 'hunker down.' 
They may be holding the embassy, but 
not hunkered down." 

* I 

I'll make it happen. An expression of 
determination to carry out orders. It was 
a standard response by enlisted troops to 
their officers and was equivalent to "can 
do." See also not a problem. 

Imminent Thunder. A major amphibi- 
ous landing exercise staged in Saudi 
Arabia in November 1990. 

incontinent ordnance. Bombs and ar- 
tillery fire that miss their targets, endan- 
gering civilians. 

insert. To drop off (as when helicopters 
hover near the ground and insert special 
operations units in their desired posi- 

intel puke. A member of military intel- 
ligence, especially one working far from 
the front. 

in the lips. See face-shot. 

314 • WAR SLANG 

l-rackies. American soldiers' preferred 
way of identifying those from the nation 
their British counterparts call "Eer- 
awk." By the same token, U.S. troops in 
the gulf talked of Patriot missiles as 
"Pate-riut missels" while the same two 
words from a British soldier came out as 
"Pat-riut miss-aisles." 

* * J * * 

janitor. An infantryman; used self- 
deprecatingly. According to the authors 
of The Official Lite History (and Cook- 
book) of the Gulf War (1991), the term is 
"based on the idea that 'police call' is the 
only infantry skill that can be translated 
to an equivalent civilian career." A "po- 
lice call" is an order to clean up, or po- 
lice, an area. 

jarhead. A Marine. 

Jedi Knights. A group of young majors 
who worked on the "fine print" of the 
combat operations in the gulf. The name 
was given to them by U.S. commander 
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. They 
were part of a planning hierarchy that 
also included the warlords. The name 
derives from the Jedi Knights, who were 
the elite fighters in George Lukas's Star 
Wars trilogy. 

jeep on steroids. The bulky humvee. 

JIB. Joint Information Bureau. JIBs were 
established in major hotels in Saudi cit- 
ies to give briefings to the press and pro- 
vide other information. 

jib rat / jiblet. A reporter who watched 
the war on television, from a hotel room; 

used almost exclusively to denote those 
sitting out the war at the Dhahran Inter- 
national Hotel's jib. 

jihad. A Muslim holy war. The term, 
often associated with terrorism, was 
used during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. 

Joe. A soldier; a contraction of ox joe 
(see under World War II). 

Johnny Weissmuller shower. A 

shower so cold that it induces a Tarzan- 
like yell (Weissmuller was one of several 
actors who played Tarzan in the movies). 

J-STARS. Joint surveillance target at- 
tack radar system (a battlefield recon- 
naissance aircraft). 

juke. To move quickly (e.g., in order to 
evade enemy fire). 

• a K * * 

K-day. January 16, 1991, the day the al- 
lies began the offensive aimed at the lib- 
eration of Kuwait. 

Kevlar. A k-pot; from the name of the 
high-tech synthetic fabric of which it is 

kick butt. To attack with overwhelming 
power. It was the preferred term of the 
high command when discussing things 
like 1,400 sorties a day against Iraq. 
President George Bush euphemized it 
further to "kicking a little you-know- 

kill. To destroy; to put out of action. The 
term was applied to aircraft, equipment, 

and weapons (rather than to human be- 
ings). As a Stars and Stripes reporter put 
it to a reporter from The Guardian: "The 
gun lobby in the United States is fond of 
saying that people are not killed by guns 
but by other people; here, people get to 
kill guns." 

kill box. A rectangle on- an aircraft 
radar screen in which a target is seen 
blowing up. 

killer bee. An attack aircraft; from the 
name of a species of Africanized bee 
much discussed in the U.S. at the time 
of the Gulf War. 

killing box. One of the areas into 
which a target area is divided for the 
purpose of destroying enemy equipment, 
vehicles, and buildings. 

kill sack. An area of Iraqi obstacles to 
an allied ground offensive. Kill sacks 
were described in the Baltimore Sun of 
January 24, 1991: "Minefields and oil- 
filled trenches beyond the Saudi-Kuwait 
border through which US. troops would 
have to move if a ground war begins." 

klick. A kilometer. 

K-mart. Kuwait. 

K-mart parking lot. The tanker an- 
chorage off the port of Khor Fakkan, 

K-pot. A Kevlar helmet: a parallel term 
to steel pot (see under the Vietnam War). 
The K-pot replaced the steel pot as the 
standard Army helmet. 

K.S.A. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 


K.T.O. Kuwaiti theater of operations. 

K.Z. Killing zone (an area where fire can 
be concentrated to inflict heavy damage 
on the enemy). 

• # L * * 

LANTIRN. Low-altitude navigation and 
targeting infrared night. 

lanyard puller. An artilleryman; a ref- 
erence to the time when cannons were 
fired by pulling a lanyard. 

larse. Long-range surveillance; a re- 
placement for lurps (see under the Viet- 
nam War). 

lose. To lock a laser beam onto a target. 

Lawn Dart. The F-16 fighter-bomber; 
also called the "Electric Jet," "Fighting 
Falcon," and "Viper." 

L.C. A line crosser (i.e., an enemy sol- 
dier who defects). 

leather personnel carriers. Boots; 
mock-Pentagonese. In tune with the Pen- 
tagon's penchant for three-letter acro- 
nyms, they were often called "L.P.C.'s." 

leg. See straight-leg. 

leg infantry. The marching infantry, 
which walks into battle (in contrast to 
the mechanized infantry, or mech). 

LES. Leave and earnings statement. The 
LES is an accounting given to each re- 
servist called to active duty; it tells the 
reservist exactly how much he or she 

316 • WAR SLANG 

will be paid in base pay and allowances. 
It was often noted that one's LES showed 
how much less money one would make 
in uniform than in civilian life. 

lifer juice. Coffee (because it is the fa- 
vorite beverage of lifers — those who stay 
in the military until they retire). 

life-support area. A military base. This 
absurd example of Pentagonese was not 
used by the troops. 

lima delta. Line of departure (i.e., the 
jumping-off point for an attack); alpha- 
bet code. 

Little Hollywood. An area near the 
swimming pool at the rear of the Dhah- 
ran International Hotel. Television corre- 
spondents from four American networks 
(ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC) delivered 
their live reports there. John Kifner of 
The New York Times alluded to the 
Hollywood aspect of this in his February 
9, 1991, article, "War Notebook": "Some- 
times the on-camera correspondents 
wear helmets, flak jackets and goggles, or 
even chemical suits, while the producer 
and crew wear T-shirts." 

The blue domes visible in the back- 
ground during reports from Little Holly- 
wood looked otherworldly on television, 
but they were nothing more than cabanas 
and storage areas. 

lost-and-found badge. 

name tag; a Marine term. 

An Army 

love boat. A naval vessel on which a 
significant number of the female sailors 
become pregnant. The term was specifi- 
cally applied to the Acadia, because 

thirty-six pregnant crew members had to 
be transferred out of the war zone. More 
than half of them became pregnant after 
the ship got under way for the gulf. The 
term alludes to a television program, The 
Love Boat, which centered around ship- 
board romances. 

love Scud., The penis (seen as a 

LP.C.'s. Boots. See leather personnel 


L-T. See EL-TEE. 

* * AA * * 

make the rubble bounce. To bomb a 
city heavily; the phrase originated with 
British forces. 

Meal Refusing to Exit / Meal Re- 
jected by Ethiopians / Meal Rejected 
in Ethiopia. See mre. 

meat fleet. A hospital ship or ships. 

mech. Mechanized. The mechanized 
infantry rides into battle (in contrast to 
the leg infantry, which walks). 

media puke. A journalist. 

mick. A minute (as in, "Give me five 
micks"). The term made a euphonious 
pairing with "klick" (a kilometer). 

military orphans bill. Any of several 
pieces of proposed legislation to allow 
military couples with children to ask 
that one parent be kept out of a war zone. 


Despite the name, the bills were meant 
to prevent orphaning, rather than to pro- 
vide for military orphans. 

minder. A member of the armed forces 
assigned to help journalists and keep 
tabs on them. 

AAOPP. Mission-oriented protective pos- 
ture (i.e., being dressed in chemical- 
weapons protective gear, including a gas 
mask). According to a November 1991 ar- 
ticle in Army: "To 'go MOPP' is to go to 
one of the four stages of MOPP. MOPP 
4 is full anti-nuclear-biological-chemical 
gear: rubber gloves and boots, charcoal- 
lined pants and jacket and the ever- 
present gas mask." 

morality police. Muslims who keep 
other Muslims in line spiritually by 
stoning or beating them; a play on "mili- 
tary police." 

MORE. Meal, Organizational Ready-to- 
Eat; a supplement to the m.r.e. 

mort themselves out. To fire at each 
other accidentally (said of friendly air- 
craft). Damaging or shooting down a 
friendly plane is fratricide. 

M.O.S. Military occupational specialty 
(i.e., a soldier's job description). 

mother of all battles, the. The ground 
war to come (according to Saddam Hus- 
sein). This "mother of all cliches" be- 
came "the first great catch phrase of the 
90s," in the words of the Associated 
Press. It created what Newsweek termed 
"a virtual ocean of bad puns and dopey 
wordplay." Secretary of Defense Dick 

Cheney noted that the war had produced 
"the mother of all retreats," which others 
termed "the mother of all routs." The 
Boston Globe preferred "the mother-in- 
law of all battles," and observed that 
Saddam Hussein had painted himself 
into "the mother of all corners." Johnny 
Carson opened with "the mother of all 
monologues." The Seton Hall basketball 
team's first Big East championship was 
"the mother of all victories." When 
Queen Elizabeth was bitten by one of her 
pet corgis, it was because she "attempted 
to interfere with the mother of all 
dog battles." On February 27, 1991, 
US. commander General H. Norman 
Schwarzkopf gave "the mother of all 
briefings," a key press briefing summa- 
rizing the results of the war. In March 
1991, President George Bush hailed his 
wife, Barbara, as "the mother of all 

The original "mother of all battles" 
was the great Arab victory over the Sas- 
sanian Persians in 636 a.d. The Arabic 
word for "mother" (umm) can also mean 
"ultimate" or "chief." 

M.R.E. Meal Ready to Eat. This succes- 
sor to the C-ration was the standard 
American field ration of the war. Many 
of those forced to subsist on the M.R.E. 
claimed that there were three lies in the 
name. Columnist Jack Anderson said 
that M.R.E.'s "have a shelf life of five 
years and flavor to match." 

One popular reinterpretation of 
"M.R.E." was "Meal Refusing to Exit," re- 
flecting a belief held by many medics 
and troops in the gulf that the plastic- 
packed field ration caused constipation. 
A February 1991 report in the Washing- 
ton Times by Elisabeth Hickey and Mi- 

318 * WAR SLANG 

chael Hedges contained this comment: 
"They believe the pouches filled with 
processed food — guaranteed to last long 
after every veteran of the Persian Gulf 
campaign has departed the earth — are 
filled with chemicals that prevent a 
bowel movement more than once a 

Another widely heard translation of 
"M.R.E." was "Meal Rejected by Ethio- 
pians" (or "Meal Rejected in Ethiopia"), 
alluding to the extended period of fam- 
ine in Ethiopia. 

Ironically, during the summer of 1991 
the Pentagon offered to give away sur- 
plus M.R.E.'s from the gulf deployment, 
and one of the few nations that agreed to 
take the food was Ethiopia. 

At Ease: MRE Food Review 

A Knight-Ridder report in the Washing- 
ton Post for January 3, 1 991 , noted that 
the most popular M.R.E.'s were chili 
macaroni and chicken with rice. The 
least popular was tuna noodle casse- 
role. A later report (February 25), in the 
Washington Times, listed these as most 
popular, in descending order of pref- 

1. Spaghetti. 

2. Beef stew. 

3. Chicken stew. 

4. Chicken and rice. 

5. Ham slice. 

The Washington Times report added: 
"Of the 'accessories' that come with the 
grub, the best-liked are candy (AA&Ms 
and caramels), cocoa, and Hershey's 
new non-melt chocolate bar. The least- 
liked are applesauce, Kool-Aid and de- 
hydrated fruit." 

The Manchester Guardian reported 
that the going trade rate among the al- 
lies in the gulf was one French field 
meal for three M.R.E.'s. 

M.S.R. Dodge. Military Supply Route 
Dodge (the road south of the Iraqi border 
where allied troops massed for the 
ground offensive). "Dodge" appears to be 
a reference to Dodge City, a metaphor for 
any place where there is military action. 
See also death row. 

mud mover. A bomber pilot; a term 
used by fighter pilots, who often assert 
that all the bombers do is move the 
mud around. 

mud soldier. See grunt. 

Murphy's Laws for Grunts. Mock 
"laws" demonstrating that, as far as the 
grunt is concerned, life is unfair and 
nothing will go according to plan. They 
derived from the original Murphy's Law: 
"If anything can go wrong, it will." 
Anonymously created, they were circu- 
lated everywhere in the gulf, thanks to 
copy machines, faxes, and computer 

Similar laws were created during the 
Vietnam War — for example, "Body count 
math is 2 VC + 1 NVA + 1 water buffalo 
= 37 KIA." 

At Ease: Murphy's Laws from 
the Gulf 

There were many versions of Murphy's 
Laws for Grunts. Here's a sample collec- 
tion culled from various sources, in- 
cluding one adapted from a list on a 
Pentagon bulletin board and published 
in the Chicago Tribune by David Evans, 
the paper's military correspondent: 

1 . Suppressive fire — won't. 

2. Friendly fire — isn't. 

3. When in doubt empty your mag- 

4. Never forget that your weapon was 
made by the lowest bidder. 

5. If your attack is going really well, 
it's an ambush. 

6. The enemy diversion you are ignor- 
ing is the main attack. 

7. If the enemy is in range, so are 

8. Tracers work both ways. 

9. If you take more than your fair 
share of objectives, you will have more 
than your fair share to take. 

10. All five-second grenade fuses will 
burn down in three seconds. 

1 1 . Anything you do can get you shot, 
including doing nothing. 

12. The important things are always 

13. The simple things are always 

14. The easy way is always mined. 

15. Professional soldiers are always 
predictable, but the world is full of ama- 

16. Murphy was a grunt. 

17. If it's stupid but works, it ain't 

18. Don't look conspicuous — it draws 

19. Never share a foxhole with any- 
one braver than you are. 

20. Try to look unimportant — they 
may be low on ammo. 

21. If you are short of everything ex- 
cept enemy, you are in combat. 

22. When you have secured an area, 
don't forget to tell the enemy. 

23. Make it too tough for the enemy 
to get in, and you can't get out. 

24. Never draw fire — it irritates those 
around you. 

25. When both sides are convinced 
they are about to lose, they are both 

26. Teamwork is essential — it gives 
them other people to shoot at. 

27. Incoming fire has right of way. 

28. No inspection-ready unit has ever 
passed combat. 

29. If at first they don't succeed, they 
will make you try again. 


• it N * * 

nasty boys, the. A nickname adopted 
by a number of combat units in the gulf. 
One such unit was described in L7SA To- 
day for January 21, 1991: 

Bravo Company calls itself "The Nasty 
Boys." "We like to get it done, get it done 
quickly, with as much viciousness as we 
can," said Sgt. Rick Gonzales, 24, of San 
Antonio. Spec. Daryl Small wood, 21, of 
Gainesville, Ga., said his platoon is making 
up death cards to place on Iraqi soldiers 
they kill. His card: "Personal Debt Paid." "I 
got 50. But I know I'll need more." 

nature's heat tab. The hot desert sun; 
from the heat tablet used to warm bev- 

nick. To steal. This common British 
slang became part of the American vo- 
cabulary in the gulf. 

night cap. Night combat air patrol. 

nine-four. A radio sign-off; a chummier 
version of the traditional "ten-four." 

Ninja woman. An Arab woman veiled 
in black (like a Ninja fighter). 

Nintendo effect / Nintendo war. The 

war as seen in videotapes of exploding 
buildings, which made bombing seem 
like a Nintendo video game. 

nittenoid. A petty detail; one who is 
obsessed with petty details. 

no clue. Confused; lost (as in, "He has 
no clue"). 

no-hope Pope. A reservist. The name 
for active duty forces was "people with 
no lives." 

320 • WAR SLANG 

N.O.K. Next of kin. 

Not a problem. An expression of deter- 
mination to carry out orders. It contrasts 
markedly with an expression such as 
"Sounds like a personal problem to me," 
of the Vietnam War era. See also I'll make 


nuclear coffee. A drink prepared by 
taking the instant coffee, cocoa, creamer, 
and sugar contained in an M.R.E. acces- 
sory package and mixing them in a can- 
teen half filled with water. 

Operation Cobra. The code name for 
the thrust by the 101st Airborne Division 
in which 15,000 U.S. paratroopers 
landed behind enemy lines in late Feb- 
ruary 1991. The paratroopers success- 
fully set up a landing zohe for 270 
helicopters and thus helped cut off the 
road linking the front to Baghdad. 

Operation Cookie Shield. A nick- 
name for the arrival of an excess number 
of parcels containing baked goods for the 
troops. They were well fed, but more in 
need of letters and news from home. 

* o 


OBOGS. On-board oxygen-generating 
system (the air supply in jet airplanes). 

oil. To use oil as a weapon (e.g., to dump 
it into coastal waters to clog water- 
purification plants or to use it to inhibit 
an amphibious landing). 

one-eighty out. A wrong answer (i.e., 
that which is 180 degrees from the 

ooh rah. See hoo-ah. 

Operation Baby Stork / Operation 
Baby Storm. Nicknames given to the 
plans for dealing with a very high birth- 
rate — triple the average — as a conse- 
quence of thousands of soldiers 
returning from Saudi Arabia in April 
and May 1991 and getting their mates 
pregnant (or, in the case of female troops, 
getting pregnant). Both names are a play 


Operation Desert Con. The scams and 
hoaxes used to take advantage of the con- 
cerns of the families of those in the gulf. 
These ranged from the sale of overpriced 
"gift packs" to venal schemes by which 
families were enticed into making ex- 
pensive 900-number calls for informa- 
tion on their loved ones. 

Operation Desert Shield. The code 
name for the allied military protection 
of Saudi Arabia after Iraq's invasion of 
Kuwait. See also desert shield. 

Operation Desert Storm. The code 
name for the conflict itself. Months later 
many were still using it, because the war 
lacked a commonly agreed-upon name. 
Among the names that have been used 
are the Persian Gulf War, the Gulf War, 
the Gulf Conflict, and the War with Iraq. 
See also mother of all battles, the. 

During the war, the television net- 
works had their own names for the event. 
NBC's was "America at War," while it 
was "Showdown in the Gulf" on CBS 
and "War in the Gulf" on CNN and ABC. 


Operation Welcome Home. The June 
10, 1991, victory celebration in New 
York City. The "National Victory Celebra- 
tion" had been held in Washington, D.C., 
on June 8, 1991. 

* * P * * 

patch guy. A highly experienced fighter 
pilot; from the patches worn to signify 
awards, special schooling, and flying ex- 

Patriot. (1) A missile used to shoot 
down incoming Iraqi scud missiles. (2) 
Part of the name of a short-lived but 
much publicized brand of condom: "Pa- 
triot Defense Condoms." 

Patriot baiter. A television correspon- 
dent (especially one working from little 
Hollywood, who seemed to be in line to 
be hit by a missile, even a friendly Pa- 

Patriot-to-Scud tally. An indication of 
the relative effectiveness of the Scud and 
the Patriot. It was a way of keeping score. 

pencil. A reporter without a camera 
crew (i.e., a print journalist). 

penguins. Air Force ground crews (be- 
cause they are wingless birds). 

people with no lives. Active duty 
forces (as seen by reservists; see no- 
hope pope). 

pig. The M-60 machine gun. This is the 
7.62-mm weapon that Sylvester Stallone 
used in the Rambo movies. 

pizza sheik. A Saudi eatery serving 
pizza; a play on the names of such 
American fast-food chains as Burger 
King and Pizza Hut. 

pogue. Anyone who arrived in the gulf 
after you. See also under the Vietnam 
War, as well as World War II. 

PONTI. Person of no tactical impor- 
tance (i.e., a journalist). See also ponts. 

PONTS. Person of no tactical signifi- 
cance (i.e., a journalist, or anyone else 
not in uniform). This British acronym 
was adopted by the Americans, who 
added it to their list of pejorative terms 
for journalists, which included "head- 
ache" and "media puke." 

pool people. The privileged hundred 
or so reporters (out of the estimated nine 
hundred covering the war) who were 
members of combat pools, enabling them 
to go into the field to interview and pho- 
tograph the troops. Those not in the 
pools, according to one dispatch, "stick 
around the press center, grumble a lot 
and rewrite reports faxed in from the 
front," or they might freelance. 

The term "pool" is an established 
name for the process whereby one or 
more journalists cover an event for 
others. In the gulf, a pool was a group of 
sixteen journalists who, escorted by 
a military officer, were given a brief 
look at military operations. The system 
had few supporters among the press. 
"Shunting reporters around in non- 
competitive 'pools' makes the military 
the assignment editor of the war, decid- 
ing what should or should not be cov- 
ered," wrote A. M. Rosenthal in The New 

322 * WAR SLANG 

York Times. He added: "End it: let re- 
porters work independently within secu- 
rity realities." 

poor man's defense. The air defense 
tactic of dividing the sky into squares 
and having gunners shoot into particular 
squares, in hopes that attacking aircraft 
will fly into the fire. The tactic was pio- 
neered by the North Vietnamese and 
emulated by the Iraqis, both of whom 
lacked the technical sophistication to 
target specific planes. 

pop. To kill. 

prayer patrol. Saudi sound trucks that 
cruise the streets and call the faithful to 
prayer five times daily. 

prick-77. The AN/PRC-77 field radio. 

Provide Comfort. The spring 1991 air 
operation by which relief supplies were 
dropped to Kurdish refugee camps in 
northern Iraq. 

P.T. Physical training. The Army ad- 
ministers a P.T. test to every soldier every 
six months. 

pucker factor. A measure of fear (i.e., 
the degree to which a soldier's anal 
sphincter tightens up). In this war, the 
term was applied especially to those op- 
erating Patriot missile batteries. 

purple suiter. A military person as- 
signed to a joint services command; a 
play on "green suiter" (a soldier) and 
"blue suiter" (an airman), both derived 
from the color of the dress uniform. 

• ft 

ft • 

Q-8. Kuwait. 

quick-turn burn. A rapid refueling and 
rearming of an aircraft between sorties 
(usually, without turning off the engine); 
also known as a "hot turn." It was done 
within five minutes during the days of 
multiple air strikes. 

* R * 

rag-head. An Arab; a racist slur. This 
long-established American slang was 
first used to refer to Hindus or others 
who wear turbans. 

Rambo. (1) Anyone who is more brave 
than smart. Rambo was the name of the 
Vietnam veteran portrayed by Sylvester 
Stallone in a series of extremely violent 
movies, and the name became associated 
with military excess during this war. A 
British soldier told a reporter for the 
Times of London: "I don't want to sound 
like Rambo, but you have to assume this 
is the last time the British will ever go 
to war in such force and quite honestly, 
peacetime soldiering will never be the 

(2) An infantryman who carries SAWs 
(squad automatic weapons). As a re- 
porter for the Houston Chronicle put it, 
they "look so theatrically lethal while 
draped in ammunition belts they usually 
inherit the monicker." 

Rambo rag. A bandanna or head scarf. 
The cloths were used as protection 
against dust and sand, but some com- 


manders banned them because they were 
seen as symbols of bravado. The movie 
character Rambo often wore a bandanna. 

Rambo stuff. The kind of bravado that 
undermines discipline. It can lead to re- 
venge-driven behavior and the commis- 
sion of war crimes. During operation 
desert shield there was a concerted drive 
to contain and control Rambo stuff. 

real soldiers. The subject of sayings 
created to characterize the average male 
grunt. Lists of "real soldiers" lines circu- 
lated widely in the gulf. The sayings 
were a takeoff on the "real men" lines of 
the mid-1980s (as in the novelty book 
title Real Men Don't Eat Quiche), which 
yielded macho boasts like, "Real cops got 
balls that clang when they walk" (from 
Joseph Wambaugh's The Delta Star). 

At Ease: Real Soldier Defined 

Here is a selection of "real soldiers" 

Real soldiers don't wear zip-up boots. 

Real soldiers don't use spray shine. 

Real soldiers don't lend money; they 
borrow it. 

Real soldiers don't smoke their own 

Real soldiers never use proper radio 
or telephone procedures. 

Real soldiers cuss over the FM radio. 

Real soldiers never change their skiv- 
vies in the field. 

Real soldiers never drink alcoholic 
beverages unless they are alone or 
with someone. 

Real soldiers never fly MAC [the Mili- 
tary Airlift Command]. 

Real soldiers hate disco. 

Real soldiers love country and 

Real soldiers refuse to be left back on 

rear detachment when their unit de- 
ploys to the field. 

Real soldiers live beyond their means. 

Real soldiers have financial problems. 

Real soldiers go to happy hour. 

Real soldiers call happy hour "happy 
hour" and not "attitude adjustment 

Real soldiers remain at the bar long 
after happy hour has ended. 

Real soldiers rarely change their socks 
in the field. 

Real soldiers do not allow their official 
duties to interfere with their social life. 

Real soldiers never get hungry; they 
stay hungry. 

Real soldiers have no patience with 
anyone except command sergeants 

Real soldiers drink ungodly amounts 
of coffee. 

Real soldiers drink their coffee black 
and disgustingly bitter. 

Real soldiers' favorite song is "Take 
This Job and Shove It." 

Real soldiers laugh during Love Story. 

Real soldiers cry when E.T. lives. 

Real soldiers drink "Jumpin' Jack 
Flash" [eight ounces of Jack Daniels over 
one ice cube]. 

Real soldiers are not slaves to fashion. 

Real soldiers don't wear three-piece 

Real soldiers don't own three-piece 

Real soldiers never shine their civil- 
ian shoes. 

Real soldiers rarely iron their civilian 

Real soldiers don't part their hair in 
the middle. 

ree. A meal; short for m.r.e. 

repat. A repatriate (i.e., an American or 
British oil company employee who es- 
caped from Kuwait or Iraq). 

repo. To reposition a weapon for a kill. 

324 • WAR SLANG 

retrograde movement. A retreat; a eu- 
phemism used by higher command. 

Rhino. See double ugly. 

Rivet Joint. The RC-135 aircraft used to 
record enemy communications; a mili- 
tary code name. 

rock and roll. To put a weapon on full 
automatic fire. 

rocket scientist. An especially compe- 
tent person. According to Captain Joseph 
W. Michael, it was used for "anyone ca- 
pable of doing more than his or her spe- 
cific job." 

rope-a-dope tactics. Surprise tactics; 
kamikaze tactics. 

rotor head. A helicopter pilot. 

rototilling. Carpet bombing enemy ter- 
ritory with strategic bombers. 

Rudolf Hess. A mess. This is a rare ex- 
ample of traditional British rhyming 
slang becoming part of American mili- 
tary slang. "Hess" is used for the simple 
reason that it rhymes with "mess." 

rumint. Rumor intelligence; a play on 
"humint" (human intelligence), used 
during the Vietnam War. 

rumor control / rumor control central. 

A mythical "official" source of all rumors. 

run and dive. A shallow, quickly dug 
foxhole; also known as a "hasty." 


ft • 

S.A. Saudi Arabia. 

Saddam. (1) Bullshit. (2) To lie; to ex- 

Saddam Happens! Life is unpredict- 
able and often unpleasant. This motto 
was based on the "Shit Happens!" 
bumper sticker of the late 1980s. It seems 
to have had its origin in a cartoon in the 
Washington Times depicting a tank with 
a "Saddam Happens!" bumper sticker. 

At Ease: Mottoes and Slogans 
from a Short War 

A visitor to West Point in October 1990 
observed a giant no slack for iraq banner 
(and noted that the cadets were dressed 
in battle dress in support of their fellow 
soldiers in the gulf). 

The folks at the Orkin Pest Control 
Company heard that Saddam was terri- 
fied of cockroaches, so they designed 
and shipped to the gulf bumper stickers 
that featured a roach in a storm coat 
(a play on "Desert Storm") exhorting the 
soldiers to bug the thug. 

Another bumper sticker alluded to 
President George Bush's well-advertised 
dislike of a certain vegetable: suppose Ku- 

Still another depicted Saddam as a 
spider, along with the words iraqnopho- 
bia (a play on the term for fear of spi- 
ders, "arachnophobia"). 

Then, of course, there was the T-shirt 
motto of the war: i invaded Kuwait and all 


Saddam Insane. Saddam Hussein. 


Saddamist, the. Saddam Hussein; pos- 
sibly a play on the riddle, "What did 
Hussein do to Kuwait? He Saddamized 
[sodomized] it." 

Saddam line. Iraqi fortifications 
(trenches, mines, etc.) on the Saudi- 
Kuwaiti border. 

Saddam Who's Sane? Saddam Hus- 

Saddamy. Saddam Hussein; a play on 

Saddy. Saddam Hussein. 

Sammy. Saddam Hussein. 

sandbox, the. Saudi Arabia and Ku- 
wait (i.e., their desert terrain). 

sandbox express. (1) Any form of de- 
sert transportation. (2) Transportation to 
the gulf region itself. 

sanitize. To kill; to purge of life. 

Saudi champagne. A fizzy concoc- 
tion of mineral water, Sprite or 7-Up, and 
apple juice (i.e., a drink in keeping with 
the Muslim taboo against alcohol). 

Scud. (1) A Soviet-made surface-to- 
surface ballistic missile. The Iraqis had 
three versions, with a range of 360 to 
1,200 miles, configured to carry conven- 
tional or chemical munitions. The offi- 
cial NATO name for the Scud is "SSI," 
but "Scud" is a long-established NATO 
code word for the missile. NATO denies 
giving enemy missiles unflattering or 
awkward code names, but besides 

"Scud," NATO code names for Soviet 
missiles include "Scrag," "Sapwood," 
and "Spanker." The fact that they all 
start with the letter "S" indicates that 
they are surface-to-surface missiles. 

(2) To bash someone; to beat someone 
up (i.e., as if hitting someone with a 

(3) An expletive. The term had limited 
and ephemeral use as a stand-in for 

Scud-a-vision. The Cable News Net- 
work (CNN). 

Scud Bowl. The King Addul Aziz Naval 
Air Station. It was described in Army 
magazine in November 1991 as a barely 
used soccer stadium north of Port Jubail 
that had been taken over by the Marines 
and used as an air base. 

Scudbusters. (1) Patriot missiles. (2) 
The people who designed, built, and 
controlled Patriot missiles. "In Balti- 
more, Martin Marietta workers hauled 
up a big cloth banner saying 'Scudbust- 
ers' over their work area," reported the 
Washington Post in an article on the 
company that built the missile launcher. 
Patriots were used as anti-Scud missiles 
in the gulf, and the name "Scudbusters" 
is a play on the movie title Ghostbusters. 

Scudded. Drunk; from the Scud mis- 
sile. One trooper, quoted in Army, said 
of this term: "Ain't no such thing in S.A. 
[Saudi Arabia]." 

Scudinavia. An area in western Iraq 
from which many Scud missiles were 
launched. This play on "Scandinavia" 
was oddly appropriate because many of 

326 • WAR SLANG 

the Scud launchers were adapted ver- 
sions of Swedish Saab trucks. 

Scud magnet. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia 
(a Scud target). 

Scud puppy. One who mans a Patriot 
missile battery. 

Scud stud. Arthur Kent, an NBC re- 
porter who, with his natural good looks 
and safari-style outfits and leather jack- 
ets, was said to have the greatest sex ap- 
peal of all the TV reporters in the gulf. 
Kent burst upon the scene during a Na- 
tional Football League playoff game, 
when he dramatically announced a Scud 
missile attack. He was soon being touted 
as the war's leading man. 

Scud watcher. A journalist. 

sebkha. An underground river; from 
the Arabic. Sebkhas that turn the ground 
into quagmires that cannot be crossed by 
tanks lay near the Saudi border and 
south of Kuwait City. See also wadi. 

self-propelled sandbags. Marines 
(especially those who were dug in at the 
Kuwaiti border). 

Semper Gumby. Always flexible; a play 
on "Semper Fidelis" (the Marine motto) 
and Gumby (a rubbery green cartoon 

Senior Trend. The code name for the 
F-117 Stealth fighter program. 

septics / septic Yanks. U.S. troops. 
British troops in the gulf devised this bit 
of Cockney rhyming slang combined 

with a friendly insult ("Yanks," "tanks," 
"septic tanks"). It was adopted with 
some glee by the septics themselves. 

service the target. To destroy the en- 
emy. This term and its allies (such as 
force package) "won" the 1991 Double- 
speak Award for the Defense Department 
from the National Conference of Teach- 
ers of English. 

shack. A bull's-eye when bombing a 
target; probably from the fact that many 
targets are buildings. It was also called 
a "bull." 

shake and bake. To employ a mixture 
of weapons in an air attack. 

sham. To shirk; to avoid work. Some- 
one who shams is a "shammer." 

SHAW. Shoulder-launched automatic 
weapon (an improved version of the ba- 

Shield- 107. The Armed Forces Radio 
station operating in the combat zone; 
from "Desert Shield" and the modern 
proclivity for giving radio stations names 
followed by the frequency or initials, 
such as Q-107. 

shoot and scoot. See hip shooting. 

shooting-gallery phase. That period 
in Operation Desert Storm when allied 
aircraft picked off Iraqi field weapons 
one at a time with little or no opposition. 
It was an unprecedented move to win su- 
periority on the ground through air- 


shooting stupid. Uncontrolled antiair- 
craft fire. The opposite of "smart," as in 


sideshow. A military action consid- 
ered strategically unimportant by the al- 
lied command. 

Silkworm envelope. The Strait of Hor- 
muz (at least, the part of it in range of 
the Chinese-made Silkworm antiship 
missiles that Iran had deployed along 
the coast). 

six. A commander; radio code. God is 
"Big Six in the Sky." 

skip bombing. Dropping munitions so 
that they bounce along the ground or the 
water and hit the side of a tank or a ship. 

sky jockey. A fighter pilot. 

SLAM. Stand-off land attack missile. It 
is launched from an aircraft. 

slap and hug. A technique used 
against Iraqi troops by which they would 
first be slammed with artillery and then 
treated to the sound of an aircraft loud- 
speaker over their bunkers with the 
friendly voice of an Arabic-speaking sol- 
dier asking them to cease resistance. 

SLAR. Side-looking airborne radar. 

slimed. Hit by chemical weapons; a ref- 
erence to Bill Murray's line in the movie 
Ghostbusters, "I've been slimed." 

SLUD. Salivates, lachrymates, urinates, 
defecates (i.e., the effects of an attack 
with chemical weapons). 

SLUF. Short little ugly fucker (i.e., the 
A-7D attack aircraft). See also buff. 

smart bomb. A bomb with a laser or 
electrooptical guidance system that gives 
it a very high degree of accuracy. Smart 
bombs were used in the waning days of 
the Vietnam War but came into their own 
during the Gulf War. Perhaps the best 
line on the adjective "smart" came from 
A. Whitney Brown, Saturday Night 
Live's "cultural commentator," who in 
discussing the smart bombs used in the 
gulf said that the military "doesn't want 
to make them too smart or else they'd 
have second thoughts about war." 

smart decoy. A heat-emitting decoy 
(e.g., a metal frame and fabric replica of 
an M-l tank). Such a decoy attracts heat- 
seeking enemy missiles while it fools en- 
emy gunners. 

smoke 'em. To arrive at one's destina- 
tion quickly. 

snake. The AH-1F Cobra attack heli- 

snake eater. A Special Forces soldier; 
also known as a "tree eater." See also 
under the Vietnam War. 

soft target. A human being. A "hard 
target" is a building or military instal- 

sortie. A round-trip mission by a single 
aircraft (i.e., one mission by one plane 
equals one sortie; by ten planes, ten sor- 
ties). The term (from the French for "de- 
parture") has been used for many years 
in military aviation, but this was the first 

328 • WAR SLANG 

time it broke into general use. Many 
thought of it as a construct of this war, 
and more than a few thought the term 
being used was "soiree" (allegedly in- 
cluding one major radio personality). 

Commenting on the term in the St. Pe- 
tersburg Times, Stephen Koff wrote in 
early 1991: "Calling it a 'mission' doesn't 
have the same ring. There's something 
deliriously sneaky-sounding about the 
French word — a jet stealing in and then 
high-tailing it out." 

In his New York Times Magazine col- 
umn "On Language" of February 3, 1991, 
William Safire noted that the first use of 
"sortie" for an air mission was in a 1918 
French book, En JAir. 

Southwest Asia. The gulf region. To 
quote from Army: "A term thought up by 
a DoD staff pogue. It means Middle East 
or 'Hell,' depending on how you look at 
it." The term was a pointed reference to 
Southeast Asia, the venue of the Viet- 
nam War. 

spammed. Having been given an un- 
pleasant mission. This British troopers' 
term derives from Spam, the canned 
meat whose name is a blend of the words 
"spiced" and "ham." 

speed bumps. Saudi Arabian troops 
(as if they were simply something to 
drive over). In It Doesn't Take a Hero 
(1992), Schwarzkopf says that U.S. troops 
early in the war (when they were few in 
number and facing large Iraqi forces 
across the Kuwaiti border) referred to 
themselves as "Iraqi speed bumps" (as if 
all they could do in the event of an Iraqi 
attack on Saudi Arabia would be to slow 
the Iraqis down a little). 

splash. A hit against an enemy aircraft 
(because it splashes in the gulf); a pi- 
lot's term. 

Spot. A pet scorpion. 

Spud. A scud. This disparaging term 
implies that the missile has all of the 
devastating power of a potato. 

Square War, the. The Gulf War (be- 
cause it was staged from conservative 
Saudi Arabia, lacking alcohol, drugs, 
and prostitutes). 

squawk. To talk by radio from aircraft 
to aircraft; from the characteristic radio 

squiggles. Arabic writing (especially 
on highway signs; as in, "It's only twenty 
kilometers to Squiggles"). 

SS 1 . See scud. 

Stan. Saddam Hussein. 

stealth. (1) An aircraft designed to 
avoid detection on enemy radar. The 
F-117A was a stealth-equipped jet used 
in the first raid on Baghdad. (2) To kill. 

Stormin' Norman. General H. Norman 
Schwarzkopf (the U.S. commander); also 
known as "the Bear." 

strack. A soldier with proper bearing 
and attitude. See use under the Viet- 
nam War. 

straight-leg. A nonparatrooper; used 
derisively. Paratroopers must learn how 
to land with bent legs to absorb the im- 

pact. The term was sometimes shortened 
to "leg." 

strangle. To cut off or switch off equip- 
ment (as in strangling a radio). 

strike munitions. Bombs (i.e., the mu- 
nitions used in an air strike). 

strip search. To conduct reconnais- 
sance along a straight line between 
two points of reference; from the term 
for searching a person who has been 
stripped naked. 

suicide circle. A Saudi traffic circle. 
"Road accidents have so far claimed the 
lives of 13 allied soldiers," said Time for 
February 25, 1991. 

Suicide Road. See death row. 

super Dolly Parton. See dolly parton. 

surgical. Precise (as in, "surgical air 

Schwarzkrieg. Name given to the 
1,000-hour Gulf War air campaign by re- 
tired Marine Corps colonel Gerit Feneda 
and adopted by Armed Forces Journal 
and others. 

• a- T 


T / T-rat. A tray ration. These large trays 
of a single dish were designed for feed- 
ing large numbers. They received less 
than a four-star rating in the gulf. 

tag and bag. To mark a corpse and put 
it into a body bag (as in, "Tag 'em and 
bag 'em"). 


take down / take out. To destroy. 

take it in the face. To eat. 

tally ho. Target in sight (in air combat). 

tango uniform. Out of action; unable 
to perform. The phrase is alphabet code 
for "TU," which is official code for 
equipment that is out of order. It was 
often unofficially applied to an ill or 
tired soldier. 

tankbuster. An antitank weapon (e.g., 
the A-10 Warthog aircraft). This is one of 
several post-Ghostbuster terms ending in 
"buster" that appeared in this war, in- 
cluding SCUDBUSTER. 

target rich. Said of an area where there 
were lots of things to shoot at. Iraq and 
Kuwait were called the "target-rich envi- 

thumbprint. Confirmation that a path 
to a target has been established by laser- 
guided weapons. A circling plane 
equipped with a laser points its beam at 
a target. When the laser defines a clear 
track for the bomb or missile to follow, 
the thumbprint has been established. 
The term derives from the use of a fin- 
gerprint (e.g., a thumbprint) in a crimi- 
nal investigation to establish identity. 

tippin'. Acting stupid; also known as 


toast. An enemy hit by a bomb (i.e., one 
who has been burned, or toasted). 

toe popper. A small land mine. Despite 
the cute name, it can take one's leg off 
up to the knee. 

330 • WAR SLANG 

Tomahawk. An unmanned, rocket- 
launched, jet-propelled ground-hugging 
cruise missile fired from ships or B-52 
bombers. Guided by an onboard 
computer, it can hit a target as far as eight 
hundred miles away from the launch 

Top Gun. General Colin Powell, chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

total immersion. Nonstop television 

TOW. Tube-launched, optically-tracked, 
wire-guided missile. 

tragic kingdom. Saudi Arabia; a sad, 
mocking reference to Disney's Magic 

trash hauler. Transport aircraft. 

T.R. double E. A phrase used in hazing 
new soldiers. It was explained in Army 

"A way to weed out the pogues from the 
dust-biters," reported one Desert Storm 
Marine. A dust-biter would ask the pogue 
if he ever set up a "T.R. double E" — refer- 
ring to an antenna — and the pogue would 
almost always say "Yes." Then the hard- 
charger would reply, "Stick to pushing pa- 
pers — there aren't any trees in the desert." 

tread head. 

tank treads. 

A tanker; a reference to 

tree eater. A Special Forces soldier. 

triple A. Antiaircraft artillery (as in, 
"We gave them a lot of triple A"). "Triple 
A" was known as ack-ack in World 
War II. 

trippin'. Acting stupid; a reference to 
the "trips" of drug use. Also known as 


tube. A gun tube (specifically, an artil- 
lery piece). 

tumbleweed. Completely confused. 

turkey shoot. A rout. The term was ap- 
plied to the devastating allied attack on 
the huge convoy of Iraqi tanks and other 
military vehicles fleeing Kuwait. It is a 
direct reference to the slaughter of do- 
mestic turkeys, which are defenseless 
and totally unaware of their fate. 

turn 'em and burn 'em. To get air- 
planes back in the air quickly after a mis- 
sion. The person in charge of this feat is 
the crew chief. 

A civilian meaning of this phrase was 
reported in USA Today of July 18, 1991: 
the practice of some high-tech compa- 
nies of hiring people out of top universi- 
ties and working them hard while 
holding out the possibility of granting 
them lucrative stock options. 

• a U it • 

U.A.V. Unmanned aerial vehicle (i.e., a 
pilotless reconnaissance airplane). 

ulu. The middle of nowhere; from a 
term for the Malayan interior. 

unilateral. A reporter who disguises 
himself as a soldier to get to the front 
(i.e., one who broke from the pool and 
its rules). 


unit of fire. A standard load of ammu- 
nition for one soldier or one weapon. 

urah. See hoo-ah 

• * v * * 

vampire. An American sniper who 
stalks his prey at night. 

vertical insertion. Arrival on a battle- 
field by helicopter. 

video canary. A television journalist; 
an allusion to the birds used by miners 
to detect the presence of gas. 

Viper. The F-16 fighter-bomber; also 
called the "Electric Jet," "Fighting Fal- 
con," and "Lawn Dart." 

* * W * * 

wadi. A dry river gulch; from the Ara- 
bic. A wadi can turn very wet very 
quickly in the desert winter. According 
to the March 1991 issue of Airman: "The 
Iraqis have set up a defense line behind 
the wadi that runs along Kuwait's border 
with Iraq." See also sebkha. 

Wally World. The Persian Gulf. An As- 
sociated Press dispatch of December 19, 
1990, on Navy slang in the gulf, reported: 
"For reasons that remain obscure, the 
Persian Gulf itself has been dubbed 
'Wally World,' a term borrowed from a 
film starring comedian Chevy Chase." 

Warlords. General H. Norman Schwarz- 
kopf's name for his corps commanders. 

Warthog. The A-10 Thunderbolt air- 
craft. This was an affectionate, mocking 
nickname for the ugly, clumsy-looking 
beast of American warplanes. It acquired 
its name from that of a slow-moving 
tusked pig. 

waste. To kill. 

weaseling. Operating the F-4G jet 
fighter (the Wild Weasel), a complex job. 

web gear. Tools and pouches carried 
on web belts, plus the belts themselves. 

weenie. Anyone farther to the rear than 
the speaker. 

whale. A tanker in the gulf. 

whizo. A weapons systems officer. It is 
a pronunciation of the initialism, 

W.I.A. Wounded in action. 

Wild Weasel. See double ugly. 

wingman. The second aircraft in a 
flight formation. The primary obligation 
of the wingman, who flies to the side of 
the leader, is to defend the leader. 

woof. To talk without saying anything. 

woof, woof. Meaningless talk (like 

world, the. Any place except the gulf 
region. A Houston Chronicle report of 
August 28, 1990, with a dateline of Bed- 
ouin One, Saudi Arabia, illustrates: 
"Here at a remote desert camp that takes 

332 • WAR SLANG 

its name from the nomadic Bedouin 
tribes, Marines voraciously question 
visitors from 'the world' about the latest 
details of the U.S. -Iraqi standoff." 

wrench. A mechanic; in the same sense 
that a "spoon" is a cook. 

W.T.O. Washington theater of opera- 
tions; an ironic reference to the Pen- 

• a Y * * 

yeehah. See hoo-ah. 

* z 


zero. None; nothing (said of the out- 
come of an experience or event). 

zoom bag. A flight suit. 

zoomy. A pilot (i.e., one who zooms). 

zulu / zulu time. Greenwich Mean 
Time (G.M.T.). The military keeps track 
of time for all military operations in zulu 
time, which starts at 0000 and runs to 

This term had been used by the mili- 
tary for many years, but like the term 
sortie, never enjoyed wide popular ac- 
ceptance. During the Vietnam War, 
"zulu" was the infamous code word for 
casualty reports. 

Sources and Acknowledgments 

This book was begun during Operation Desert Shield which presented a perfect opportunity 
to collect the slang of the war as it was being heard, recorded and reported. Because of the 
nature of the conflict and its relatively long build-up, there were many journalists who reported 
on the terminology of the American troops in the Gulf. Quite simply, the language of the GI in 
the Gulf was a legitimate story for many reporters looking for an angle during Desert Storm. 

In order to gather as much of this as I could, I contacted a number of friends and associates — 
including several on active or reserve duty in the military — and asked them to be my linguistic 
eyes and ears for the duration. My appeal looked like this: 



. . .to help me collect terminology linked to the Gulf War. A few days ago I began assembling 
and documenting such a collection including: 






oft-repeated quotations, journalese, slogans, images etc.) 

Would also love any glossaries, comments on the language of this war, and any other 
illuminating clippings, etc. 

Lest there be any question, I think that there is an important and informative glossary to 
be created from all of this and I am making an early bid to create an early one. Examples from 
the early days of this: Republican Guard . . . Triple A . . . Sortie . . . EPW . . . Smart Bomb . . . 
Dumb Bomb . . . Golden BB . . . Frogs . . . Thumbprint . . . Persian Gulf War . . . Scud . . . 
Collateral Damage . . . etc. 

Paul Dickson 

The recruits: Russell Ash, Terence Blacker, Bruce O. Boston, Bob Calvert, Don Crinklaw, 
Isabelle C. Dickson, Douglas E. Evelyn, Mike Feinsilber, Walt Gianchi, Joseph C. Goulden, Bob 
Greenman, the late Irving Hale, Kelsie Harder, Betty Hartman, Capt. Lawrence P. Lapuh, Dave 
Matheny, Bill Mead, Capt. Joseph Michael, Herbert H. Paper, Ross Reader, Randy Roberts, Bob 
Skole, the late Robert C. Snider, Mike Stackpole, Norman D. Stevens, Robert Throckmorton, 
Steve Teicher, Elaine Viets and Loren K. Weissman. 

It should be noted that Capt. Joseph W. Michael of Fort Eustis, Virginia was kind enough 
to respond to my request (which caught up with him in Saudi Arabia) with a major league 
memo on the subject after serving in the Gulf. 

The newspapers which were used in this quest included these: the Akron Beacon-Journal, 
the Albuquerque Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the Columbia (Mo.) Daily 
Tribune, the Denver Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Post, the Huntsville News, the 
Times of London and the Sunday Times, the London Daily Telegraph, the Los Angeles Times, 
New York Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Times, the Rocky Mountain News, the 
Seattle Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Petersburg Times, the Washington Post, the 
Washington Times, the Witchita Eagle. Much material was collected from the three broadcast 
networks, the Cable News Network, National Public Radio and the Associated Press. 

The book which was the first to capture both the official and unofficial language of the Gulf 
is The Official Lite History (and Cookbook) of the Gulf War, and the fullest early magazine 
attempts were "Before the Battle" by E. M. Flanagan, Jr. in the November, 1991 Army magazine 
and "Miles of Sand and Desert Slang" by Elisabeth Hickey and Michael Hedges which appeared 
in the February 25, 1991 Insight magazine (and which was based on their earlier reports in 
the Washington Times). The special report "Among The New Words" by John and Adele Alego, 
both of the University of Georgia in Athens, in the Winter 1991 (Vol. 66, Number 4) American 
Speech is a most significant contribution to cataloging the language of the Gulf War; as is a 
supplement which appears in the Spring 1992 issue, (Vol. 67, Number 1) of the same journal. 




Verbal Fallout from Nukes, the Cold War (1946-1991), and 

the Puzzle Palace 

To exacerbate or not to exacerbate, that is the dichotomy; 
Whether 'tis more viable vis-d-vis the mind to suffer 
The thrusts and boggles of outrageous escalation, 
Or to take arms against a sea of pragmatism, 
And by opposing, end them. To die, to crunch, 
No more, and by a crunch to say we end 
The xenophobia and the thousand counter-productive dialogues 
That flesh is heir to; 'tis an inhouse ambivalence 
Devoutly to be opted, to die, to sleep . . . 

— "Gobbledygook," by Argus J. Tresideer, in Military Review (April 1974) 
[Hamlet's soliloquy rewritten in the jargon of the Pentagon] 

I he best war slang is collected by veterans, and I could be regarded as a Cold 
War vet. For starters, in elementary school I was part of a sixth-grade fund- 
raising drive to sell garden seeds to purchase heavy room window shades that 
would, we were assured, protect us from atomic bombs. We were pioneers at 
desk diving and could hit the floor instinctively when the teacher yelled, 
"Drop and cover!" 

I got my Army draft notice just after the Berlin Wall went up, but instead 
went into the Navy, where I served on an aircraft carrier that spent most of 
its days exercising against a known enemy whose electronics-laden trawlers 
followed us like so many sea gulls. We carried nuclear bombs, which I liked 


to touch as often as I could — for good luck, of course. We were there for the 
Cyprus crisis and were at Guantanamo when Fidel Castro turned off the water 
to the American base. At Guantanamo, I stared eyeball-to-eyeball at a Red 
Chinese Rambo who guarded the perimeter of the base with a machine gun 
(but allowed Cuban nationals to come onto the base to cut the grass and tend 
to the flowers at the officers' club pool). 

For several years after leaving the Navy, I wrote about high-technology 
electronics for Electronics magazine and spent a lot of that time writing about 
big, expensive things with initials for names — like ABM and AWACS — that 
would come into play if the Cold War got hot. 

For most of the war I kept my ear cocked and eyes open for the language 
that defined it — "it" being the Cold War, the massive military buildup and 
the ever-present (though now much-diminished) nuclear threat. 

Here then is a one-of-a-kind collection of acronyms, code words, strange 
jargon, and pure slang — a small portion of the many terms peculiar to the 
cold warrior. If the terms chosen seem to have a slant — an eye to the absurdity 
of it all; a nuclear nonchalance — so be it. Tough. I was there. The Cold War 

is over. 

• it A * * 

A.A. Air America; air assault; airborne 
alert; air-to-air; Alcoholics Anonymous; 
antiaircraft; applique armor; approving 
authority; arrival angle; assembly area; 
attack assessment. These meanings of 
what may be the most common — and 
therefore most confusing — initialism in 
the modern military vocabulary are from 
The Dictionary of Military, Defense Con- 
tractor and Troop Slang Acronyms 
(1990), by Philip C. Gutzman. 

A. B.C. American-British-Canadian; Ar- 
gentina-Brazil-Colombia (the ABC coun- 
tries); atomic, biological, and chemical. 
These meanings are taken from the offi- 
cial Department of Defense Acronym 
List (1988), which is, as the Washington 
Post termed it, "449 jam-packed pages of 

absolute dud. "A nuclear weapon 
which, when launched at or emp laced 
on a target, fails to explode" (as defined 
in the Department of Defense Dictio- 
nary [1991]). 

accidental war. An "outlaw" term. 
The Department of Defense Dictionary 
(1991) says: "Not to be used, use acciden- 
tal attack." 

acey-veecee. The Arms Control Veri- 
fication Committee (ACVC). 


Administrative Command, Amphibious 
Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Com- 
mand. This Navy term is the longest En- 
glish acronym in captivity (at least, it is 
the longest of the 45,000 entries in the 
1965 edition of the Acronyms, Initial- 
isms, and Abbreviations Dictionary). If 
it ever is bettered, the new champion also 

336 • WAR SLANG 

will probably come from the Navy, 
which seems to have a special penchant 
for creating long acronyms, especially 
portmanteau, or telescope, words, in 
which two or more words are joined. 
Other naval portmanteaus include 
NAVFORKOR (Naval Forces, Korea) and 
BUPERS (Bureau of Personnel). 

age of moon. A measure of time. It is 
the official Department of Defense and 
NATO nomenclature for, "The elapsed 
time, usually expressed in days, since the 
last new moon." 

aim point. Target in a nuclear attack. 

air breathing. Requiring the intake of 
air — or inhaling — for fuel combustion. 
The term describes a missile or other air- 
borne delivery system that must remain 
within the earth's atmosphere. 

air support. Bombing. In 1974 an Air 
Force colonel won a Doublespeak Award 
from the National Council of Teachers of 
English for his complaint about reporters 
writing about a U.S. bombing mission: 
"You always write it's bombing, bomb- 
ing, bombing. It's not bombing! It's air 

ALTAI R. Advanced Research Projects 
Agency long-range tracking and instru- 
mentation radar. This third-generation 
acronym from the Pentagon contains two 
earlier acronyms: ARPA (Advanced Re- 
search Projects Agency) and "radar" (ra- 
dio detection and ranging). Such 
acronyms embedded within other acro- 
nyms are termed "tour de force acro- 
nyms" by Kenneth H. Bacon in a 1977 
article on the subject in The Wall Street 

Journal. Bacon used the Army's SCAMP- 
ERS as an example: Standard Corps 
Army MACOM (for Major Army Com- 
mand) Personnel System. 

ALCUM. Nickname for the air-launched 
cruise missile, derived from the initial- 
ism ALCM. 

anchored. Am orbiting a visible orbit 
point; an air-intercept code word. 

angels. Aircraft altitude (in thousands 
of feet); an air-intercept and close air 
support code word. See also under the 
Gulf War. 

ANGUS. Air National Guard of the 
United States. 

antipersonnel. Designed to kill peo- 
ple. An antipersonnel weapon is meant 
to destroy people rather than equipment. 

apportioning the poverty. Dividing 
the expected 1990s budget cuts among 
the branches of the armed forces. 

ARISTOTLE. Annual Review and Infor- 
mation Symposium on the Technology 
of Training and Learning. This Air Force 
formulation is but one of a number of 
"classical" acronyms. Others include 
PLATO (Programmed Logic for Auto- 
mated Training Operation), ADONIS 
(Automatic Digital On-line Instrument 
System), SOCRATES (System for Orga- 
nizing Content to Review and Teach Edu- 
cational Subjects), and CASSANDRA 
(Chromatogram Automatic Soaking, 
Scanning, and Digital Recording Appa- 


arm strong. A term indicating respon- 
sibility for arming and fusing circuitry; 
used by the Air Support Radar Team. 

atomic cemetery. A burial place for 
atomic waste; a term of the early 1960s. 

atomic itch. An effect of atomic radi- 
ation. This new term for the year 1947 
was defined by one authority as, "A skin 
irritation, accompanied by high fever, 
brought about by radiations from the 
atomic bomb." 

atomic words. See purr words. 

auntie. Anti- (as in, "antimissile missile"). 


backchannel. General officers' per- 
sonal message traffic transmitted by elec- 
trical means. The forward channel is 
reserved for official military business. 

Backfire. A Soviet bomber. During the 
Cold War the Soviets refused to disclose 
their own names for many of their weap- 
ons, so the Western powers had to give 
them names. Predictably, the names cho- 
sen were sometimes less than flat- 
tering — like "Backfire," "Forger," and 
scud (see under the Gulf War). 

backpack nuke. A nuclear device that 
can be carried by a single person. 

back tell. The transfer of information 
from a higher to a lower echelon of com- 
mand (the opposite of the usual path up 
the chain of command). The term is offi- 
cial NATO nomenclature. 

balisage. The marking of a route by a 
system of dim beacon lights, enabling ve- 
hicles to be driven at near daytime speed 
under blackout conditions. The term de- 
rives from the French baliser ("to place 
beacons or markers"). 

balloon goes up, the. A major war 
starts. The term is discussed by Nigel 
Rees, in Why Do We Say ... ? (1987): "It 
derives from the barrage balloons used 
during the two world wars to protect tar- 
gets from air raids. The mere fact that 
these (or observation) balloons had 'gone 
up' would signal that some form of ac- 
tion was imminent." 

BAMBI. Ballistic missile boost inter- 
ceptor; a system of rockets capable of 
homing in on the heat of enemy missiles 
and colliding with them shortly after 
they are launched. The system was never 
actually built, but BAMBI research went 
on for decades, beginning in the late 
1950s. Like infant, it's a cute name for a 
deadly system. "Bambi," the name of an 
adorable baby deer in a children's book 
and a Disney movie based on it, has ac- 
quired a connotation of supreme inno- 

basic encyclopedia. A list of targets 
that an enemy might choose to attack. 
The Department of Defense defines it in 
official documents: "A compilation of 
identified installations and physical 
areas of potential significance as objec- 
tives for attack." 

battle star. A laser-armed satellite that 
can incinerate enemy missiles seconds 
after they are launched. In the late 1970s 
and early 1980s, battle stars were seen as 

338 • WAR SLANG 

the A.B.M.'s (anti-ballistic missiles) of 
the 1990s. 

Bay of Pigs, the. Enlisted women's 
quarters; a derogatory term, from about 
1961 to the early 1990s. The references 
are to the hapless American invasion of 
Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (April 1961), 
"pig" as an ugly woman, and "bay" as a 
living area for troops. As is pointed out 
in A Dictionary of Soldier Talk (1984), 
by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, and Ernest 
Deal: "The term is fast becoming obso- 
lete among today's generation of young 
soldiers living in coed barracks." 

B.C.F. Blind copy furnished. The term 
is used by Pentagonians protecting them- 
selves. Here is an insider's definition: "A 
record placed on an Official File Copy 
that you have sent a copy of the letter 
to another party and you don't want the 
addressee to know it." 

BEDOC. Beds occupied; an official 
Army measure of habitation. 

bells and whistles. New responsibil- 
ities or requirements imposed on a sys- 
tem as it proceeds through development 
(e.g., more firepower, armor, or radar). 

below the zone. Said of the selection 
of an officer for promotion ahead of his 
contemporaries; also known as "second- 
ary zone" promotions (in that the officer 
jumps ahead of those in the primary 
zone) and "five percent," or "nickel," 
promotions (because only a small per- 
centage are so selected). 

Beltway bandit. A high-priced con- 
sultant or consulting firm working for the 

Department of Defense or other govern- 
ment or military agencies. The name al- 
ludes to the Beltway, an interstate 
highway that encircles Washington, DC. 

bias. The average distance a warhead 
will land from its target ("ground zero"). 

big bird. The Keyhole (KH-9) surveil- 
lance satellite. 

big one. A Soviet test of a missile ca- 
pable of carrying nuclear warheads. 

bingo. (1) I have reached minimal fuel 
for safe return to base or to designated 
alternate; a pilot's term. (2) Proceed to 
alternate airfield or carrier as specified; 
an air controller's term. 

bingo field. An alternate airfield. 

bird. (1) A pilotless object in flight (sat- 
ellites, space probes, and the like). (2) 
A helicopter. 

birdman. A pilot. 

black. Relying on illegal concealment; 
an official intelligence term used in cer- 
tain phrases (e.g., "living black" and 
"black border crossing"). 

black book. Name for book which out- 
lines the president's options in a nu- 
clear war. 

black box. A complex piece of equip- 
ment that can be installed or replaced 
as an unopened unit. In 1971 the Senate 
Military Appropriations Committee de- 
termined that some avionic (aviation 
electronic) black boxes were "twice as 
costly as gold." 


black list. A list of people deemed se- 
curity risks. The term is defined in the 
official Department of Defense Dictio- 
nary (1991): "An official counterintelli- 
gence listing of actual or potential enemy 
collaborators, sympathizers, intelligence 
suspects, and other persons whose pres- 
ence menaces the security of friendly 

blast. One of the effects of a nuclear ex- 
plosion. It has been described as an 
otherworldly wind traveling faster than 
the speed of sound and killing all who 
are exposed to it. 

bless. To approve an action. 

blood chit. A small cloth chart with a 
picture of an American flag and a state- 
ment, in several languages, to the effect 
that anyone assisting the bearer in reach- 
ing safety will be rewarded. 

BMEWS. Ballistic missile early warn- 
ing system. The BMEWS network con- 
sists of radar systems located at Thule, 
Greenland; Flyingdales, England; and 
Clear Air Force Base, Arizona. The net- 
work was designed to detect Soviet mis- 
sile attacks against the U.S., Canada, and 
Western Europe. 

bogey. A flying object that is unidenti- 
fied but assumed to be enemy. 

bogsaat. Bunch of guys sitting around 
a table; a form of decision making. 

boiler plate. Standard verbiage used to 
describe things that don't change (e.g., 
budget program elements). 

B- 1 . A U.S. bomber. It was critiqued by 
Peter J. Ognibene in the April 17, 1976, 
issue of Saturday Review: "a vitamin we 
need; a $100 million bomber we don't." 

blowoff. The planned separation of a 
section of a rocket vehicle after it has 
served its purpose (e.g., an empty fuel 

Blue Bark. U.S. military personnel, US. 
citizen civilian employees of the Depart- 
ment of Defense, and the dependents of 
both categories, who travel in connection 
with the death of an immediate family 
member; apparently, an arbitrary code 

blue top. A press release; from the tra- 
ditional Department of Defense press re- 
lease forms, which have blue tops. To 
blue top something is to put out a press 
release on it. 

bonus damage. Destruction beyond 
the initial target (e.g., targeting an air 
base but also destroying a small city). 
There is a certain cynicism in this use of 
the word "bonus." 

BOOB. Bolt out of the blue (i.e., an un- 
expected nuclear attack). The term was 
discussed by Bill Prochnau in the Wash- 
ington Post for April 29, 1982: "This is 
what they call in the jargon of the nu- 
clear trade, a BOOB attack. ... No warn- 
ing. Just whump." 

boomer. (1) A submarine armed with 
ballistic missiles carrying nuclear war- 
heads. (2) A member of the nuclear- 
powered Navy. 

340 • WAR SLANG 

bootleg copy. An unofficial advance 
working copy of an official document. 

brainstorm / brainstorm session. A 

meeting at which ideas are freely al- 
lowed to surface and be discussed, no 
matter how far out they may be, in the 
interest of uncovering all possible ap- 
proaches to (or parameters of] an issue 
or problem. 

Bravo. The code name for a 1954 U.S. 
hydrogen bomb test. 

brilliant pebbles. A defense technol- 
ogy that would employ thousands of 
small satellites floating in space to home 
in on incoming enemy missiles and de- 
stroy them. 

brinksmanship. Going to the brink of 
war, teetering there, and then coming 
back. The term was inspired by the di- 
plomacy of John Foster Dulles (who had 
been described in Life as having the abil- 
ity to walk to the brink) and first used 
(perhaps created) by Adlai Stevenson in 
a February 25, 1956, speech in which he 
said, "We hear the Secretary of State 
boasting of brinksmanship." (In fact, 
Dulles did not boast of it.) For his book 
Phrase and Word Origins (1961), Alfred 
H. Holt wrote to Stevenson and got this 
reply: "I cannot claim authorship of 
brinksmanship. I am not sure, however, 
whether I read it or heard it or dreamed 
it up. ... I am reasonably sure that I did 
not invent it." 

broken arrow. The Defense Depart- 
ment code name for a major accident in- 
volving nuclear weapons. The U.S., 
according to the Department of Defense, 

had 32 broken arrows between 1950 and 
1980, such as the A-bomb accidentally 
dropped over Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 
in 1958. In that incident the bomb's trig- 
ger exploded, leaving a deep crater, but 
a nuclear explosion did not follow. 

brown job. An Army person. Marines 
used this term because of the Army's 
brown uniform. 

buck slip. Optional Form 41, Routing 
and Transmittal Slip (a piece of paper 
attached to a document showing its 
source and destination). This form is 
used primarily for simple handwritten 
communications internal to an office. 

bum. (1) A reproduction of a document 
using copying equipment (i.e., not a legal 
version). (2) A bag in which classified 
waste is placed in preparation for de- 
struction; perhaps a short form for 
"bumfodder," which is a Briticism for 
both toilet paper and memoranda. 

burn a copy. To make a photocopy; 
probably from photography, in which a 
print is "burned," or printed on paper. 

burned. Said of a clandestine operator 
who has been exposed to the opposition 
(especially by surveillance) or whose re- 
liability as a source of information has 
been compromised. 

burn notice. An official statement by 
an intelligence agency to other intelli- 
gence agencies, domestic or foreign, that 
an individual or group is unreliable. 

burnout. The moment when an en- 
gine's fuel is used up. In the 1980s, the 


term came to signify a sudden loss of en- 
ergy or motivation (e.g., "teacher burn- 
out" and "executive burnout"). 

burnout velocity. The speed of a rocket 
or airborne vehicle at the moment it runs 
out of fuel. 

buster. Fly at maximum continuous 
speed (or power); an air-intercept code 
word. For all intents and purposes, as ex- 
plained in Final Flight (1989), by Ste- 
phen Coonts, it means "hurry, bust your 
ass." See also gate. 

butcher charts. Large flimsy charts on 
a chart stand, which are turned verti- 
cally, like pages in a pad. The paper used 
is roughly the same size as the paper 
used to wrap meat in butcher shops. 

button up. To prepare a missile for fir- 
ing (close the blast door, go to emergency 
power, etc.). 

• it 

C * * 

Canoe U. 


The Naval Academy: An- 

catalytic attack. "An attack designed 
to bring about a war between major pow- 
ers through the disguised machinations 
of a third power" (according to the De- 
partment of Defense Dictionary [1991]). 

C -cubed. Communications, command, 
and control. 

chairman, the. The chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

CHAMPION. Compatible Hardware and 
Milestone Program for Integrating Orga- 
nizational Needs; an Air Force program. 

CHASE. Cut holes and sink 'em. The ac- 
ronym is used for a Navy ammunition 
disposal system of sinking crates of ex- 

cherry jump. One's first parachute 
jump after graduating from jump school. 

chick. A friendly fighter aircraft. 

chicken switch. An abort switch or 
any other control that stops a mission. 

chop. Signature. To get approval one 
must often get the CO's chop. Something 
signed is said to have been chopped. 

Christmas tree. A panel of indicator 
lights in a control room or cockpit. The 
name derives from the fact that many of 
the indicator lights are green (good) or 
red (bad). A "green board" indicates that 
all is in order. 

chuff. For a rocket to burn intermit- 
tently and with an irregular noise; from 
the traditional term for the sound of es- 
caping steam. 

city bargaining. A concept in nuclear 
war strategy by which a war is controlled 
after it has begun. The scope of the war 
is limited by "bargaining"— trading your 
own cities for your enemy's. 

city buster. A tactical nuclear weapon 
powerful enough to destroy a city. Arms 
designers use the term, which echoes the 
block busting of World War II. 

342 • WAR SLANG 

CLAIM. Chemical low-altitude missile. 

clara. Radar scope is clear of contacts 
other than those known to be friendly; 
an air-intercept code word. 

clock code position. The position of a 
target in relation to an aircraft or ship. 
See o'clock, under World War II. 

Clod. The Soviet AN-14 short takeoff 
and landing (STOL) transport aircraft; 
the official NATO code name. 

clutter. Extraneous echoes on a radar 
scope, caused by clouds or other atmo- 
spheric conditions (as in, "Contact has 
entered scope clutter"). 

COCO. Contractor-owned, contractor- 
operated (e.g., a factory owned and oper- 
ated by a private firm performing a serv- 
ice, under contract, for the government). 
See also GOGO. 

cocooning. The spraying or coating of 
aircraft or other equipment with a sub- 
stance (e.g., a plastic) to form a co- 
coonlike seal against the effects of the 
atmosphere; official NATO nomencla- 

cod. Carrier onboard delivery (i.e., an 
airplane that delivers mail and other 
supplies to an aircraft carrier). 

code 3. A high-ranking official. As ex- 
plained by former Assistant Secretary of 
Defense John G. Kester in his February 
1982 article on Pentagonese in the Wash- 
ingtonian, the term is "used in messages 
to designate rank of an expected visitor, 
as in 'I have a Code 3 on board' Code 1 

is the president; Code 6s are too common 
to mention." 

code war. "A state of international ten- 
sion wherein political, economic, tech- 
nological, sociological, psychological, 
paramilitary, and military measures 
short of overt armed conflict involving 
regular military forces are employed to 
achieve national objectives" (according 
to the Department of Defense Dictio- 
nary [1991]). 

code word. More secret than top secret. 
At this level of secrecy a document is 
coded "code word." 

COED. Computer-operated electronic 

COIN. Counterinsurgency. 

Cold War. The state of antagonism and 
military preparedness that marked the 
relationship between the United States 
and its NATO allies and the Soviet 
Union and the Warsaw Pact nations be- 
tween 1946 and 1991. The war ended 
with the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

The term was created in 1946 by Her- 
bert Bayard Swope. He mentioned it to 
Bernard M. Baruch, who began using it 
in 1947 and helped make it famous in an 
October 24, 1948, statement to the Sen- 
ate War Investigating Committee. Many 
have attributed the phrase to Baruch, but 
he was scrupulous in giving credit to 
Swope. Baruch said that he kept the term 
on ice until 1947. In his 1948 Senate 
statement, he said: "Although the war is 
over, we are in the midst of a cold war 
which is getting warmer." The term was 
also used by Walter Lippmann as the title 
of a 1947 book. 


collateral damage. Civilian damage 
from a nuclear strike. In the Gulf War, it 
was applied to any unintended war 

mander, Service Force, South Pacific 
Subordinate Command; a Navy term. 

CONELRAD. Control of electromag- 
netic radiation; a system of "planned 
confusion" to prevent enemy bombers 
from locating U.S. cities by homing in 
on A.M. radio stations. The system came 
into being in 1953. 

cookie. An easy opponent for a fighter 
pilot. In Sweetwater Gunslinger 201 
(1983), William H. LaBarge talks of Lib- 
yan pilots as "Khadafy's Cookies" or "the 
Colonel's Cookies," "because we've eaten 
them up every time they come at us." 

countdown. A count backwards (e.g., 
from ten to one) to the start of something 
(e.g., a weapons test, nuclear blast, or 
missile firing). 

counterforce strike. An attack aimed 
at an adversary's military capability (es- 
pecially, his strategic military capa- 

countervalue strike. An attack aimed 
at an opponent's cities or industries. 

country buster. A very powerful nu- 
clear weapon; a play on blockbuster (see 
under World War II). It is larger than a 


covered voice. An encrypted voice 
transmission. "Covered" means "dis- 
guised," as in espionage activity. 

cow. A junior at West Point. 

cowboys and cossacks. The cat-and- 
mouse game played for many years by 
U.S. and Soviet submarines; a play on the 
game of "cowboys and Indians." In Mark 
Joseph's To Kill the Potemkin (1986), the 
game is called "practice for World War 

crash. Top priority. 

crawlerway. A heavily reinforced road 
built for transporting space vehicles on 
gargantuan treaded crawler tractors. 

crib. An underground trench for the 
disposal of nuclear waste. Cribs allow 
the waste to seep into the ground. A re- 
port from the General Accounting Office 
in the late 1970s reported that more than 
31 million gallons of radioactive waste 
had been dumped into cribs between 
1956 and 1958 alone. The code name of 
one of the most dangerous leakers is 
"crib Z-9," in Hanford, Washington. 

critical mass. The minimum amount 
of fissionable material capable of sup- 
porting a chain reaction under precisely 
specified conditions. 

C.R.P. Crisis relocation planning; some- 
times pronounced "crap." It is a civil de- 
fense scheme created in the 1970s to get 
as many people as possible more than 
ten miles away from the site of a nuclear 
explosion before it occurs. Under C.R.P, 
people head for smaller towns called 
"host areas." C.R.P. for Washington, D.C., 
for example, called for people whose li- 
cense plates end in an even number to 
leave first and for those whose plates end 

344 • WAR SLANG 

in an odd number to wait for the evens 
to get out of town. 

cryppie. A cryptologist. 

cubed out. Filled to capacity. 

culture. Man-made features of the ter- 
rain. Says the Department of Defense 
Dictionary (1991): "Included are such 
items as roads, buildings, and canals; 
boundary lines, and, in a broad sense, all 
names and legends on a map." 

cut and paste. To reorganize the basic 
elements of a document (e.g., the para- 
graphs). Sometimes, this literally means 
cutting up the document and pasting it 
together in the new version. 

D * * 

DASTARD. Destroyer antisubmarine 
transportable array detector. 

Dave's Dream. The B-29 that dropped 
the atomic bomb nicknamed Gilda on Bi- 
kini Island. 

d -cubed. A "drop dead decision" to 
abandon a particular weapons system. 

death sand. Radioactive earth. Around 
1950, it was seen as having potential use 
as a weapon. 

decapitate. To disrupt an opponent's 
chain of command by killing its leaders. 

deep space. Outer space beyond the 
orbit of Pluto (i.e., outside the solar 

dense pack. A cluster of interconti- 
nental ballistic missiles in protected 

DEW Line. The Distant Early Warning 
radar system, which began to be disman- 
tled in 1991. 

DIAIAPPR [pronounced "diaper"]. De- 
fense Intelligence Agency intelligence 

dingbats. Panamanian strongman Manuel 
Noriega's brutal Dignity Battalions. The 
term was used during the U.S. invasion 
of Panama in 1989. 

dirty battlefield. A combat zone ob- 
scured by smoke and dust. The term is 
used in discussions of smart weapons, 
which depend on lasers and electronic 
sensors that may not work well in such 
an environment. 

DISCO. Defense 
Clearance Office. 

Industrial Security 

decay. Loss of energy. 

D.O.E. (1) Death of Earth. A "DOE. re- 
action" is armageddon, or doomsday. (2) 
Department of Energy. 

dog-and-pony show. A formal presen- 
tation aimed at gathering support. Visu- 
als (usually projected on a screen), 
handouts, and large graphs are essential 
to a true dog-and-pony show. Sometimes 
the term is used to refer to a simple 

doolie. An Air Force Academy cadet. 


doomsday plane. See kneecap. 

door bundle. A package that is pushed 
out of the door of an aircraft in flight. A 
door bundle is normally followed by 

down gripe. A problem with an air- 
craft of such severity that it cannot fly. 
An up gripe can wait until after the next 
flight is over. The term is based on the 
ancient "gripe" (a complaint). 

downwinders. People living down- 
wind of nuclear facilities or test areas. 
An organization called the Hanford 
Downwinders was formed to investigate 
the health risks of the Hanford nuclear 
plant near Richland, Washington. 

drone. An unmanned aircraft; from the 
older sense of the term meaning a drudge 
or a parasitic loafer. 

drop. A fuel tank that hangs under the 
wing or belly of an aircraft and that can 
be jettisoned when it is empty. 

dry run. A practice; a rehearsal. 

duck. Trouble headed your way; an air- 
intercept code word. 

dud. See absolute dud, dwarf dud, and 
flare DUD. 

DUMB. Deep underground mountain 
basing; a Department of Defense acro- 
nym for missile siting. 

dwarf dud. "A nuclear weapon that, 
when launched at or emplaced on a tar- 
get, fails to provide a yield within a rea- 
sonable range of that which could be 

anticipated with normal operation of the 
weapon. This constitutes a dud only in 
a relative sense." This is an official De- 
partment of Defense definition. 

Dyna-Soar. A manned hypersonic ve- 
hicle boosted into orbit by a rocket; it 
would then descend until it bounced off 
the upper atmosphere and finally land at 
its destination. Also known as the X-20, 
this very ambitious project of the late 
1950s and early 1960s was canceled in 
1963 because it was proving to be too ex- 
pensive and because it did not fulfill 
military requirements (in other words, 
there was no military use for it). "Dyna- 
Soar" was a contraction of "dynamic- 

Eagle Claw. The code name for the dis- 
astrous 1980 U.S. military operation to 
free the American hostages in Iran. 

Early Bird. A compilation of military- 
related news clippings distributed early 
each morning for the edification of those 
who work at the Pentagon. It is prepared 
by the News Clipping and Analysis Serv- 
ice of the Department of Defense. There 
is also a Late Bird. 

Earnest Will. The code name for the 
1987 U.S. escort of Kuwaiti oil tankers in 
the Persian Gulf. 

EG ADS. Electronic ground automatic 
destruct system; the system that sends a 
signal to destroy a missile in flight. The 
"egads button" is the switch used to 
send the signal. 

346 • WAR SLANG 

ejecta. Debris thrown up by the explo- 
sion of a missile; from the term for the 
matter ejected from a volcano. 

Eldorado Canyon. The code name for 
the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya. 

emasculation. The destruction of a 
missile force by nuclear attack. This term 
helped critic Nigel Calder, in Nuclear 
Nightmares (1979), conclude: "Missiles 
are all but pornographic as phallic 

empty hole. A site from which a mis- 
sile has been fired. The concept is as im- 
portant to nuclear planning as empty 
squares are to checkers: Assume that 
country X dispatches missiles aimed at 
country Y's offensive missile silos. 
Meanwhile country Y figures out what 
is afoot and launches its missiles in re- 
taliation. The laugh is on X, which is 
now in the process of destroying empty 
holes. Planners try to avoid targeting 
empty holes. 

E-Ring. The outermost ring of offices in 
the Pentagon. The third-floor E-Ring is 
where the offices of key officials are lo- 
cated and is the grandest of the corridors 
in the Pentagon, where one can actually 
see daylight. It is reserved for the likes 
of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff. 

escalate. To intensify; to wage a wider 
war. In 1966 the national commander of 
the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Andy Borg, 
called for a "big and fast step-up of the 
U.S. war effort in Vietnam." UPI's Dick 
West termed that statement a "horrible 
blunder" because, as every hawk and 

dove knew, you don't "step up" a war, 
you "escalate" it. 

"Escalation agility" is the ease with 
which one can escalate. 

event. A nuclear explosion. 

event 1000. An incident in which men 
are trapped in a submarine stranded on 
the bottom, and search and rescue opera- 
tions are to be initiated. 

exfiltration. The removal of personnel 
or units from areas under enemy control 
(i.e., the opposite of "infiltration"). 

• * F * * 

faces and spaces. 

able positions. 

Personnel and avail- 

faded. Contact has disappeared from 
reporting station's scope, and any posi- 
tion information given is estimated; an 
air-intercept code word. 

FAGTRANS. First available government 
transportation; a term used in military 
transportation orders. 

family gram. A newsletter sent by 
commanders of Navy vessels to the fami- 
lies of crew members. Family grams are 
commonly sent when a ship is on a 
long cruise. 

famished. Have you any instructions 
for me? (i.e., "I am famished for instruc- 
tions"); an air-intercept code word. 

Fat Albert. A wide-bodied jumbo jet; 
from the Fat Albert character created by 
comedian Bill Cosby. 


Fat Man. The 22-kiloton atomic bomb 
dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. 

feasless. Without feasibility. 

F.E.B.A. Forward edge of the battlefield. 

ferret. An aircraft, ship, or land vehicle 
especially equipped for the detection, lo- 
cation, recording, and analyzing of elec- 
tromagnetic radiation. The term comes 
from the verb "to ferret" ("to search 
out"), originally with the aid of the ani- 
mal of the same name. 

fifth service. The civilian Pentagon bu- 
reaucracy. It is said to have an agenda 
of its own, which sometimes is different 
than that of the armed services. 

firebreak. Name for the barrier that 
separates the use of conventional weap- 
ons from nuclear weapons in a conflict. 

first strike. A surprise nuclear attack. 
A first strike would be meant to establish 
tremendous nuclear superiority by de- 
stroying a large proportion of the other 
side's arsenal. 

fish. A torpedo (no matter how sophis- 

flag plot. A naval command center. The 
term comes from the fact that a naval of- 
ficer above the rank of captain is allowed 
to fly a flag showing his or her rank — 
hence the term "flag officer." 

flare dud. A nuclear weapon that, 
when launched at a target, detonates 
with the anticipated yield but at an alti- 
tude appreciably greater than intended. 
This is not a dud insofar as yield is con- 

cerned, but it is a dud with respect to 
the effects on the target and the normal 
operation of the weapon. 

flash nudet. U.S. military code for the 
detonation of a nuclear weapon. 

flash-to-bang time. The time from 
light first being observed until the sound 
of a nuclear detonation is heard. 

fly by wire. To fly entirely by electronic 
signals (wires), rather than by mechani- 
cal links. 

FOBS. Fractional orbital bombardment 
system; a long-range ICBM (interconti- 
nental ballistic missile) system tested by 
the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1971. Mis- 
siles targeting the U.S. would have flown 
over the South Pole rather than the North 
Pole, thus avoiding the bmews. 

football. The black briefcase carried by 
a presidential military aide when the 
President is out of the White House. It 
contains the nuclear-weapons release 
codes and attack option plans. 

footprint. (1) The space taken up by an 
aircraft after it has landed. (2) The area of 
destruction caused by a nuclear weapon. 

Fort Fumble / Fort Futility. The Pen- 

fourth medium. War in space. The first 
three martial media are land, sea, and air. 

fox away. Missile has fired or been re- 
leased from aircraft; an air-intercept 
code word. 

fratricide. The destruction of one or 
more incoming warheads by the detona- 

348 • WAR SLANG 

tion of its companions. The term is used 
in discussions of MIRVs (multiple inde- 
pendently targeted reentry vehicles). 

freak. Frequency; an air-intercept word 
for radio frequency in megacycles. 

freddie. A controlling unit; an air- 
intercept code word. 

free lance. Self-control of aircraft is be- 
ing employed; an air-intercept code 

fubb. Fouled (or fucked) up beyond 

fumtu. Fouled (or fucked) up more 
than usual. 

FUNT. French underground nuclear 

* G * 

gadget. Radar. The Department of De- 
fense uses color words to indicate the de- 
gree to which radar is being jammed: 

"gadget green" — Clear of jamming. 

"gadget amber" — Sector partially 

"gadget red" — Sector completely 

Gamma Goat. An updated jeep built 
by Ling-Temco-Vought (at a development 
cost of $439 million). 

G answer. Antigravity. As James W. Ca- 
nan notes in The Superwarriors (1975), 
a vehicle capable of defying gravity 
"would make Model T's of present day 

rockets and mockeries of Mach-3 fight- 
ers." At the time of Canan's book, there 
was a widespread worry that the Soviets 
were close to the "G answer." 

garnishing. Material applied to an ob- 
ject for camouflage. 

gate. Fly at maximum possible speed 
(or power); an air-intercept code word. 
See also buster. 

G.C.D. General and complete disarma- 
ment; a term that first emerged from 
arms control talks in the 1960s. 

general war. All-out war (i.e., when all 
the buttons are pushed). 

gertrude. An underwater telephone, 
used for communication between sub- 

ghost. An imperfect sonar image. 

G.I.B. Guy in back (i.e., the person sit- 
ting in the backseat in a two-seater air- 
craft); also known as a "pitter," because 
the backseat of the aircraft is known as 
the "pit." 

gigaton. An explosive power equal to a 
billion tons of T.N.T.; a measure of the 
destructive power of nuclear weapons. 

Gitmo. Guantanamo Beach, Cuba (spe- 
cifically, the U.S. Navy base there). 

GIUK. Greenland, Iceland, United King- 
dom. The region is a key point of conges- 
tion in the Atlantic for submarines. 

GLCM [pronounced "glick-em"]. Ground- 
launched cruise missile. 


GLONASS. Global navigation satellite 

GOGO. Government-owned, govern- 
ment-operated. See also COCO. 

go-juice. Jet fuel. 

golden arches. Nuclear slang for at- 
tacking nuclear missile paths as they are 
over the North Pole. 

Golden Pheasant. The code name for 
the deployment of 3,200 troops to Hon- 
duras in 1988. 

go I die lock. Ground controller has elec- 
tronic control of an aircraft (i.e., it is 
"locked on"). The term is peculiar to air 
support radar operations. 

Gold Room. The room in the Pentagon 
where the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet; so- 
called because of the color of its drapes 
and carpets. It is also known as "the 

go nuclear. To develop and deploy nu- 
clear weapons. 

go or no-go. The decision to launch or 
not to launch a space vehicle. 

grand slam. All enemy aircraft origi- 
nally sighted are shot down. The term 
derives from baseball and contract 

gray propaganda. Propaganda that 
does not identify its source. 

graze. In artillery and naval gunfire 
support, an observation that a burst oc- 
curred on impact. 

ground zero. (1) The point at which a 
nuclear weapon makes its impact. The 
term is officially defined in a recent Joint 
Chiefs of Staff glossary: "The point on 
the surface of the earth at, or vertically 
below or above, the center of a planned 
or actual nuclear detonation." (2) A 
snack bar in the center of the courtyard 
in the middle of the Pentagon; an allu- 
sion to the fact that it would be the prime 
target in a missile exchange. 

guns or butter. Describing the debate 
over military expenditures versus ex- 
penditures for domestic programs. In the 
1960s, the phrase was tied to the ques- 
tion of paying for the Vietnam War and 
nuclear missiles or paying for the War on 
Poverty. The phrase was popularized in 
1938 with the publication of R. H. Bruce 
Lockhart's Guns or Butter, which con- 
tained this quote on its title page: "Guns 
will make us powerful; butter will only 
make us fat." The quote was attributed to 
German field marshal Hermann Goering. 

Gut, the. A rough-and-tumble section 
of Naples, Italy; the name was used by 
generations of American sailors. It may 
be a clipped form of "gutbucket." 

gut issue. The single most important 

• * H * * 

HADES. Hypersonic air data entry sys- 

HAIR. High-accuracy-instrumentation 

350 • WAR SLANG 

hair trigger. Describing the condition 
in which both superpowers are poised 
and ready for a nuclear attack. 

hang fire. To have an undesirable delay 
in the functioning of a firing system. 

happy to glad. To make minor non- 
substantive corrections to a document. 

hard. Protected. A hard target is one 
that has been covered with earth and 

hardbody. Slang for a nuclear missile 
streaking toward its target after it has 
been identified by a defensive system. 

hard kill. The destruction of a target in 
such a way as to produce physical evi- 
dence of its demise. A videotape of a 
building exploding, for example, would 
be evidence of a hard kill. 

hard stand. (1) A paved area where ve- 
hicles are parked. (2) An open ground 
area having a prepared surface and used 
for the storage of material. 

HAVOC. The Soviet MI-28 antitank at- 
tack helicopter; the official NATO code 

HAWK. Homing-all-the-way killer; a 
missile. "HIP" stands for "HAWK Im- 
provement Program." 

he. (1) The enemy. This is one of the 
surest ways to distinguish the military 
mind from the public mind: the public 
says "they"; the Pentagon says "he." Here 
is an example from a report on the Viet- 
nam War: "I don't believe the enemy has 

any great capability to assume any gen- 
eral offensive in the near future. He has 
been hurt and hurt badly. He is tired." 
(2) The President of the United States. 

heads up. (1) Enemy got through; look 
out. (2) I am not in position to engage 
target. In both meanings, this is an air- 
intercept code phrase. 

heavy bead. The biggest of the big- 
ticket items in the annual Pentagon bud- 
get; from the self-mocking notion that 
the budget is loaded with beads and 

heavy drop. The delivery of heavy 
supplies and equipment by parachute. 

HELLFIRE. Helicopter-launched fire-and- 
forget missile. 

holiday. An unintentional omission in 
imagery coverage of an area. 

homebodies. American missile com- 
bat officers. Nigel Calder, in Nuclear 
Nightmares (1979), says they are so- 
called "because the missile men must 
not mind too much being posted with 
their families for a couple of years to the 
sparsely populated districts where mis- 
siles are planted." 

Honest John. A type of missile. Ac- 
cording to an October 19, 1975, Los An- 
geles Times article on missile naming, it 
was named either for a bartender in Jua- 
rez, Mexico, or for James L. McDaniel, 
who was director of the Missile Research 
and Engineering Laboratories at the Mis- 
sile Command, in Huntsville, Alabama. 


horror story. A public disclosure of the 
outrageous prices paid by government 
for parts (e.g., $9,609 for a simple 
wrench and $900 for a plastic cup). 

horseholder. A person who serves as 
an aide or in some other capacity (e.g., 
military assistant) in direct support of a 
general officer or senior civilian; from 
the sense in which a gentleman would 
have his horse held during mounting 
and dismounting. 

hot biscuit. A promising research 

hot line. The open telex line between 
the White House and the Kremlin. It is 
not a telephone, as often depicted. 

humint. Human intelligence (i.e., intel- 
ligence information gathered directly by 
a human being, as opposed to informa- 
tion gathered electronically). See also 


hummer. (1) A missile (i.e., a hum- 
dinger). (2) The Hawkeye E-2 early warn- 
ing aircraft. 

• it | 


icing. The accumulation of ice on an 

Idealist. The U-2 aircraft. 

idiot blocks. Lines at the end of a staff 
document that give a decision maker 
space to indicate his or her choice by us- 
ing a check mark. 

igloo space. An area in an earth- 
covered structure of concrete and/or steel 
designed for the storage of ammunition 
and explosives. 

I go. I am remaining on my patrol (or 
mission); an air-intercept code phrase. 
See also i stay. 

Indians. Staff members. Their bosses 
are "chiefs." 

INFANT. Iroquois night fighter and night 
tracker; a Vietnam-era weapons system 
produced for the Army by Hughes Air- 
craft. INFANT, like bambi, is an innocent 
name for a fearsome reality. It flies in the 
face of Winston Churchill's dictum that 
things military should have military 
names and that he would never send 
British troops off to fight in something 
called Operation Begonia. 

I stay. I am remaining on my patrol (or 
mission); an air-intercept code phrase. 
See also i go. 

it. A ship. In deference to the genderless 
society, the Department of Defense ruled 
in 1979 that a ship would be an "it" and 
not a "she" and that it would be 
"crewed" and not "manned." 

At the same time the shipboard 
"mess" was officially renamed "enlisted 
dining facilities," the "galley" of yore be- 
came a "kitchen," and the "brig" became 
a "correctional facility." 

In 1984, a good year to lash out against 
such things, then- Secretary of the Navy 
John F. Lehman, Jr., condemned "the bu- 
reaucratization of naval language" and 
ordered all naval facilities to return to 
traditional use by January 1, 1985. Halls 

352 • WAR SLANG 

were once again "passageways" and toi- 
lets again became "heads." 

• <r J * • 

jacf u. Joint American-communist fuck- 
up; a Cold War variation on the iacfu of 
World War II. 

jam. To interfere with. Electronic jam- 
ming is the purposeful impairing of an 
enemy's electronic systems. 

JEEP. Joint Emergency Evacuation Plan; 
the plan for a select group of military 
leaders to get out of Washington, D.C., in 
a hurry before a nuclear attack. 

jiggle. To maneuver an aircraft (diving, 
turning, etc.) so as to break a radar lock 
by the enemy. 

Jo. A female soldier (as in, "G.I. Jo"). 

judy. I have contact and am taking over 
the interception; an air-intercept code 

Julie. The system that activates the 
Navy's sonar buoys. James W. Canan re- 
ported in The Superwarriors (1978) that 
it had been named Julie "after a Philadel- 
phia stripteaser who had a reputation for 
turning passive boys into active boys." 



Joint Uniform Military Pay 

Jumpseat. The code name for any of 
the National Security Agency communi- 
cations intelligence (COMINT) satellites 
stationed in geosynchronous orbit to in- 

tercept Soviet communications relayed 
via satellites. According to The Language 
of Defense (1990), by Mark M. Eiler: 
"The first Jumpseat satellite was 
launched in March 1971. The classified 
prime contractor for Jumpseat satellites 
is believed to be either Hughes Aircraft 
or TRW." 

Just Cause. The code name for the De- 
cember 1989 U.S. military invasion of 

• * K * * 

kill-jam. To impair the ability of an en- 
emy aircraft's electronics and communi- 
cations while a second plane comes in 
for the kill. 

kneecap. The E-4B jet aircraft that sits 
ready to take the President out of Wash- 
ington, D.C., in the event of an enemy 
missile attack. The plane is designated 
the National Emergency Airborne Com- 
mand Post (NEACP), and "kneecap" is a 
pronunciation of the acronym. The offi- 
cial code word for the plane is 
"Nightwatch," and it is often referred to 
as the "doomsday plane," because its use 
is envisioned only in case of nuclear war. 



Langley. The Central Intelligence 
Agency, which is based in Langley, Vir- 

laughing third. A country that is able 
to persuade two nuclear powers to anni- 


hilate each other. The term dates from 
the early days of strategic nuclear 

lazy. Equipment indicated at standby; 
an air-intercept code word. 

Lazy Dog. The MK-44 missile cluster 
bomb. After being dropped from an air- 
craft, it dispenses 10,000 small bomb- 
shaped iron missiles. It is an antiperson- 
nel weapon of the first order. 

leprosy effect. The taint imposed on 
everything associated with a failed 

liner. Fly at speed giving maximum 
cruising range; an air-intercept code 

liver patch / liver pad. The Army 
Staff Identification Badge (ASIB). "Au- 
thorization to wear the badge normally 
is granted to officers and warrant officers 
at the Headquarters, Department of the 
Army," says the 1986 Staff Officer's 

L.N.O. Limited nuclear option; the use 
of tactical nuclear weapons instead of 
conventional weapons. 

Looking Glass. The code name for the 
EC-135 aircraft commanded by a U.S. Air 
Force general on a 24-hour-a-day basis. 
The general has authority over all Strate- 
gic Air Command forces in the event that 
primary underground command centers 
are destroyed in a nuclear war. 

low-dollar-value item. A budget item 
that normally requires considerably less 
management effort than others. 

low grazing. Describing a missile that 
comes in at a low angle. In a December 
24, 1982, article in the Washington Post 
on nuclear language, George C. Wilson 
notes that sequential dumping is a means 
of getting low-grazing Soviet missiles to 
skip off a target "like flat stones skit- 
tering across a pond." 

LOX. (1) Liquid oxygen. (2) To load liq- 
uid oxygen into the fuel tanks of a mis- 
sile or space vehicle. 

* * M * * 

MAD. Mutual assured destruction; the 
theory that neither superpower will at- 
tack the other because retaliation would 
be fatal. Mutual destruction of two na- 
tions was and is a profoundly disturbing 
notion, even to nuclear planners, and the 
irony of the acronym has never been seen 
as anything but accurate. (As could be 
predicted in the acronym age, there is 
more than one military meaning of 
"MAD." It also stands for "magnetic air- 
borne detection" and "magnetic anom- 
aly detection," to name just two others.) 

MADDAM. Multiplexed analog to digi- 
tal, digital to analog multiplexed; a Coast 
Guard computer system term. 

man-eater. Aircraft (e.g., the A-7) with 
engines that can easily suck a man into 
their intake. The term is used on aircraft 
carriers, where such accidents are a 

man portable. Capable of being car- 
ried by one man; official NATO nomen- 

354 • WAR SLANG 

many. Eight or more aircraft (generally, 
enough for a raid); an air-intercept term. 

maritime strategy. A plan for destroy- 
ing the Soviet navy by aggressive fleet 

mark mark. A command from a ground 
controller for an aircraft to release its 

mark one eyeball. Human sight (de- 
scribed as first-generation military 
equipment). This term came into play 
during the moon landings, which were 
helped considerably by the mark one 

Mark 1 Mod Zero. The earliest or most 
basic version or model of something 
(usually, a weapon). An infantryman 
with no special skills is a Mark 1, Mod 
Zero Soldier. In Richard Marcinko's 
Rogue Warrior (1992), the author refers 
to himself as a Mark 1, Mod Zero sailor. 

married failure. A moored mine lying 
on the seabed and connected to its 
sinker, from which it has failed to release 
owing to a defective mechanism. 

MaRV. Maneuverable reentry vehicle; a 
type of warhead. 

megacorpse. A million dead people; a 
nuclear-age word. This term first ap- 
peared in print in 1957, the same year 
overkill came into being. 

megadeath. A million dead. 

meltdown. The situation in which a 
nuclear reactor goes out of control and 

the core melts. In 500 Years of New 
Words (1983), William Sherk notes that 
"meltdown" appeared in print as early 
as 1975 as nuclear slang, but "lost its 
quotation marks and became a full- 
fledged member of the English language 
in March, 1979 when an accident at the 
nuclear power plant on Three Mile Is- 
land, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania led 
to the leakage of dangerous radioactivity, 
and created the possibility of a melt- 

M.F.R. Memorandum for record; a writ- 
ten memo recalling what went on at a 
given meeting. 

middleman. Very high frequency or ul- 
trahigh frequency radio relay equipment; 
an air-intercept code word. 

milicrat. Military bureaucrat. 

mini-nuke. A neutron bomb (a small 
fusion bomb whose lethality comes from 
radiation rather than blast force and 

MIRV. Multiple independently targeted 
reentry vehicle. 

mirved. Armed with a mirv. 

mixed bag. A collection of naval mines 
of various types, firing systems, sensitivi- 
ties, arming delays, etc. 

MOMCOMS. Man-on- the-move 
munications system. 


MOOSEMUSS. Maneuver, objective, of- 
fensive, surprise, economy of force, mass, 
unity of command, simplicity, security 

(Karl von Clausewitz's nine basic prin- 
ciples of war). Clausewitz (1780-1831) 
was a noted authority on military 

MOPOT. Mobile psychological opera- 
tions transmitter; a facility for broadcast- 
ing psychological warfare programming. 

Muenster. The code name for an atomic 
blast on January 3, 1976, in the Nevada 
desert. It was one of a series of bomb 
tests named for cheeses, which began 
with "Edam" on April 4, 1975. Ac- 
cording to "Nuclear Devices Set Off an 
Explosion of Names" (1983), by Harry 
Jaffee, other atomic test series have been 
named after "golfing terms ('Backswing,' 
on May 14, 1964), mixed drinks ('Dai- 
quiri,' September 23, 1966) and parts of 
sailboats ('Rudder,' December 28, 1976)." 

music. Electronic jamming; an air- 
intercept code word. 

• * N * * 

nabu. Nonadjusting ball-up. This is a 
contemporary addition to military 
screw-up acronyms of the snafu and fu- 
bar school of catastrophe (see under 
World War II). 

narrow yellow. OCS A Form 159, Refer- 
ral Slip. Used in assigning routine ac- 
tions to others, it is a narrow yellow form 
that may have been named after the pop 
song "Mellow Yellow." 

N.B.C. Nuclear, chemical, and biologi- 
cal warfare. 


NCAP. See nightcap. 


near space. Near the earth. 

nightcap. Night combat air patrol; a 
pronunciation of the acronym, "NCAP." 

Nimrod Dancer. The code name for the 
American deployment of two thousand 
troops to Panama. The name made little 
sense, and the Pentagon admitted that it 
had been picked by a computer. 

Noah's Ark Plan. A concept in civil 
defense in which only the young and 
healthy would be evacuated in anticipa- 
tion of a nuclear attack, while the old 
and sick would be left behind. Never put 
into place, it was at one time proposed 
for Los Angeles. 

no first use. The strategic policy of an- 
nouncing that one will not be the first to 
use nuclear weapons in a war. Neither 
the U.S. nor the Soviet Union ever pro- 
claimed a "no first use" policy. 

nonlethal military assistance. As- 
sistance to another country in building 
roads, railroads, and airstrips for mili- 
tary use, but not supplying actual weap- 
ons or ammunition. 

nonseller. A proposal that probably will 
not be approved. See also wont wash. 

no-op. An aircraft planned for and de- 
signed but never built and operated. 

nth country. The next country to ac- 
quire nuclear capabilities. Until France 

356 • WAR SLANG 

joined the nuclear club some years ago, 
the equivalent term was the "4th country 
problem," because only three countries 
(the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China) 
then had the bomb. 

nuc. A crew member on a nuclear sub- 

NUC. Naval Underseas Command. 

nucint. Nuclear intelligence (i.e., intel- 
ligence information derived from the 
collection and analysis of radiation and 
other such effects). 

nuclear buddy system. Name for the 
system of safeguards which presumably 
makes it impossible for a single person 
to start a nuclear attack. 

nuclear winter. The possible climatic 
effects of an all-out nuclear war. Some 
scientists believe that the smoke, haze, 
and debris produced by multiple nuclear 
explosions could blot out the earth's sun- 
light for weeks or months and cause a 
profoundly disastrous drop in the 
planet's average surface temperature. 

nuke. (1) The inner core of a nuclear 
weapon. (2) A nuclear weapon. The term 
made its debut on February 1, 1959, in a 
New York Times Magazine article: "Soon 
there may be 5-inch nuclear shells and 
portable Davy Crockett 'nukes' for the in- 
fantryman." (3) A nuclear-powered sub- 
marine. (4) To attack with nuclear 
weapons. William Sherk, in 500 Years of 
New Words (1978), reports that the first 
use of the verb was in a July 11, 1970, 
Look magazine article in which the pos- 
sibility of "nuking" China was broached. 

NUTS. Nuclear utilization targeting 
strategy; a nuclear strategy based on the 
idea that military targets, and not popu- 
lation centers, should be destroyed in a 
nuclear exchange. It is summarized in 
The Language of Defense (1990), by 
Mark M. Eiler: "that nuclear weapons 
can be employed in limited wars that do 
not escalate into a full-scale nuclear ex- 
change." Clearly, "NUTS" is as crazy as 

• it 

it • 

o'club. Officers' club. 

offload. To unload. 

onload. To load. 

on the deck. At minimum altitude. 

ops-to-ops. From one operations offi- 
cer to another; a Navy term. 

oranges. Weather; an air-intercept code 
word. If the oranges are "sour," the 
weather is unsuitable for the aircraft's 
mission, while "sweet" oranges indicate 
that the weather is suitable for the 

overkill. More nuclear destructive abil- 
ity than called for. It was usually put in 
terms of the number of times that the U.S. 
and the Soviet Union would have been 
able to destroy each other. Overkill esti- 
mates of the 1970s ranged from "17 times 
over" to "100 times over." 

over-the-shoulder bombing. "A spe- 
cial case of . . . bombing where the bomb 


is released past the vertical in order that 
the bomb may be thrown back to the tar- 
get" (according to the Department of De- 
fense Dictionary [1991]). 

* & P it • 

padding. "Extraneous text added to a 
message for the purpose of concealing its 
beginning, ending, or length." This 
definition appears in Department of De- 
fense glossaries. 

palace guard. The highest echelon of 
Air Force officers; the generals. 

pancake. I wish to land ; an air-intercept 
code word. The reason may be specified 
(e.g., "Pancake ammo" means "I wish to 
land because I am out of ammo"; "Pan- 
cake fuel" means "I wish to land because 
I am out of fuel"). 

panopo. Pacific to Atlantic via the 
North Pole. This acronym is used as a 
title for those who have made the trip 
by submarine. 

paradrop. Delivery by parachute of per- 
sonnel or cargo. 

parrot. Identification as "friend or foe" 
using transponder equipment (the IFF). 
"Strangle parrot" is an order to shut off 
one's IFF unit. "Parrot" alludes to the 
sound of radio equipment. 

PAWS. Phased-array warning system. 

Pax / Pax River. The Navy Air Test 
Center at Patuxent River, Maryland. 

Peacekeeper. The MX missile. The 
name was cited (c. 1984) by those fasci- 
nated by euphemisms to show that Or- 
wellian Newspeak had become a reality. 

pecked line. A symbol consisting of a 
line broken at regular intervals (i.e., as if 
it had been pecked by a bird). 

pen aids. Penetration aids; missiles that 
act as decoys to cause the other side to 
expend defensive missiles. 

Pentagonese. The language of the Pen- 

Pentagonian. One who works in the 

Parade Rest — A Few Thoughts 
on Pentagonese 

Writing in National Journal, David C. 
Morrison had this to say: "Perhaps no 
institution has twisted the mother 
tongue more systematically . . . than the 
Defense Department. Not only do De- 
fense officials tend towards a particu- 
larly leaden bureaucratic patois, often 
called 'Pentagonese,' but military se- 
crecy requirements also generate a 
dense thicket of evasive phrasing and 
arcane code words." 

The term "Pentagonese" is wryly de- 
fined in A Dictionary of Soldier Talk 
(1984), by John R. Elting, Dan Cragg, 
and Ernest Deal: "A peculiar artificial 
language developed by the aborigines 
of the Puzzle Palace for the express pur- 
pose of confusing the troops. It is ex- 
tremely difficult to translate into 

But perhaps the best definition came 
from the late Charles McCabe of the San 
Francisco Chronicle: "a non-lingo in 
which murder can be made to mean sal- 
vation." There was a time during the 

358 * WAR SLANG 

darker days of the Vietnam War when 
the Pentagon created terms to make the 
adventure sound like a Boy Scout hike. 
The thirty-four dollars given to families 
of South Vietnamese civilians killed by 
mistake was officially called a "condo- 
lence award," and gross bombing errors 
were seldom termed anything more in- 
criminating than "navigation errors," 
"misdirections," or "technical errors." De- 
foliants that could kill plants fifteen 
miles from where they were dropped 
were termed "weed killers" ("the same 
as you buy in the hardware store at 
home," said an American official in 
1966). Phrases like "routine improve- 
ment of visibility in jungle areas" and 
"resources control" gave defoliation the 
sound of a conservation effort. 

Pentagoose Noose. The Pentagram 
News, a newsletter distributed within 
the building. 

pepper report. 

a Navy term. 

An ammunition report; 

Perdue missile. A device created to 
fire dead chickens at 700 miles per hour 
at grounded aircraft to test cockpit cano- 
pies, to ensure they don't shatter when 
they hit birds in flight. The allusion is to 
Frank Perdue, who advertises his chick- 
ens on television. 

permissive link. An element that must 
be completed or supplied before a nu- 
clear weapon can be armed and fired. 
The permissive link can be anything 
from a key to a coded radio signal. 

physics package. A thermonuclear 
bomb. After a Senate debate on the limi- 
tation of "physics packages," a letter to 
the Washington Post asked: "Does any- 

one not think or not care to think that 
these 'packages' are in fact bombs?" 

piffy-ab. The President's Foreign Intel- 
ligence Advisory Board (P.F.I.A.B.). 

pigeon. The magnetic bearing and dis- 
tance of base (or other unit indicated) 
from you is (a certain number of) de- 
grees/miles; an air-intercept code word. 

pip. A radar signal; probably derived 
from "blip." 

plank owner. A member of a ship's 
original crew (i.e., one who trod its deck 
timbers, or planks, when still new). 

plutonium wine. An illegal drink cre- 
ated on nuclear submarines. 

pocket war. A brief war. 

pod. A detachable compartment of a 

pogo. Switch to communications chan- 
nel number preceding "pogo." If unable 
to establish communications, switch to 
channel number following "pogo." Nei- 
ther this air-intercept code word nor the 
NASA acronym POGO (Polar Orbiting 
Geophysical Observatory) seem to have 
anything to do with the cartoon possum 
Pogo, created by the late Walt Kelly. 

popeye. In clouds or area of reduced 
visibility; an air-intercept code word. 

porkchop. A Navy supply officer. Ac- 
cording to The Random House Dictio- 
nary of the English Language, "pork- 
chop" is a traditional metaphor for a 


"livelihood, especially one acquired with 
little effort." 

post-attack economy. The American 
economy, if any, that would exist after a 
nuclear war. Several plans exist for such 
a world, including one created by the 
RAND Corporation in the late 1960s, 
which says that post-attack America 
would be better off without the old and 
feeble: "The easiest way to implement a 
morally repugnant but socially benefi- 
cial policy is by inaction. Under stress, 
the managers of post-attack society 
would most likely resolve their problems 
by not making any special provisions for 
the elderly, the insane and the chroni- 
cally ill." 

POT. Portable outdoor toilet. 

Potemkin site. A dummy Soviet sur- 
face-to-air missile site. In The Superwar- 
riors (1978), James W. Canan describes a 
period in the 1970s when the U.S. had 
identified more than eight hundred such 
sites, "complete with fake launchers, 
radar, revetments, and vehicles." As Ca- 
nan reminds us, the sites were named for 
G. A. Potemkin, the eighteenth-century 
architect of false-front villages used to 
deceive Catherine the Great on her visit 
to the Ukraine and the Crimea in 1767. 

PRAM. Productivity, Reliability, Avail- 
ability and Maintainability; an Air 
Force office. 

Praying Mantis. The code name for 
the 1988 retaliatory attack in which the 
U.S. destroyed or sank six Iranian naval 
vessels and two oil platforms. 

preach to the choir. To propose an 
idea to those who already agree with it. 
(rather than trying to persuade those 
who disagree). 

prematured. Said of a torpedo that ex- 
plodes long before it gets to its target. 

product. Plutonium to be used in a nu- 
clear weapon. It is not to be confused 
with the "device" (the bomb itself). 

program. Almost anything. More than 
thirty years ago Senator Stephen Young 
defined a Pentagon program as any as- 
signment that took more than one phone 
call to complete. 

pronto. As quickly as possible. 

pump up. To brief someone until he 
or she is fully informed. The term is 
frequently used in relation to staff 
briefings, where the individuals doing 
the briefing may represent several differ- 
ent organizations. Representatives of the 
other organizations involved "pump up" 
the briefer in their areas of interest. 

punch. You should very soon be ob- 
taining a contact on the aircraft that is 
being intercepted; an air-intercept code 

purple suiter. A military officer work- 
ing in a Department of Defense position 
(e.g., in the Office of the Secretary of De- 
fense). Army officers serving in that of- 
fice receive periodic update briefings on 
what the Army is doing, and this is 
sometimes referred to as the "regreen- 
ing process." 

360 • WAR SLANG 

purr words. Euphemistic and "cleaned 
up" terms used in discussions of atomic 
warfare. An article by Blossom Grayer 
Feinstein in Word Study of February 
1965 contains this indictment: 

A study of the words that are being used 
in connection with atomic warfare and 
atomic activity may reveal attitudes of the 
press that are otherwise hidden from pub- 
lic view. What semanticists have called 
purr words are actually being used in arti- 
cles that are apparently objective. Look at 
"an optimistic picture of progress towards 
making the hydrogen bomb," "enriched 
uranium plants," "unintended war," "per- 
fection of atomic device for exploding hy- 
drogen bombs." If one were ignorant of the 
subject matter, it would be easy to feel 
hopeful with optimistic and progress; 
proud with enriched and perfection; inno- 
cent with unintended. 

In contrast to these purr words for 
atomic bomb activity, snarl words were 
used in an article on an A-Bomb Protest 
Rally. Even though Bertrand Russell spoke 
at that rally, and even though its theme was 
the total destruction involved in atomic 
warfare, the article used terms like: scuf- 
fles, motley crowd, snarling traffic, minor 
brawls, springboards of aggression, anti- 
bomb zealots. Once again, without a care- 
ful acquaintance with the subject matter 
involved, one might easily associate ugli- 
ness, aggressiveness, undue anger, uncivi- 
lized activity, and a general "lower-class" 
atmosphere with meetings where atomic 
warfare is described. 

push the button. To launch a nuclear 

push time. The moment a pilot begins 
his descent to an aircraft carrier. As this 
is the toughest moment in carrier opera- 
tions, "push" probably derives from 
"push comes to shove." 

Puzzle Factory / Puzzle Palace. (1) 

The Pentagon. (2) The National Secu- 
rity Agency. 

• * 

it it 

q-message. A classified message relat- 
ing to navigational dangers, navigational 
aids, mined areas, and searched or 
swept channels. 

quarantine. A blockade. The term arose 
when John F. Kennedy spoke of "quaran- 
tining" Cuba during the Cuban missile 

quiet sun. The condition of the sun 
when it is relatively free of sunspots and 
other factors that interfere with radio 

• it R it it 

rainout. Radioactive material in the at- 
mosphere brought down by precipi- 

ratline. (1) An organized effort for mov- 
ing personnel and/or material by clan- 
destine means across a denied area or 
border. (2) A line used to secure a ship 
to its mooring; from the idea that rats 
will use such a line to get on and off a 
ship. Sometimes, the lines carry metal 
collars to prevent such traffic. 

razor blades. A scrapped ship; pre- 
sumably, from the idea that the ship has 
been converted into razor blades. 


recce / reccy. Reconnaissance (as in, 
"recce photos"). 

reel a ma. A request to duly constituted 
authority to reconsider a decision. 

redout. The blinding of infrared detec- 
tors due to high levels of infrared radi- 
ation produced in the upper atmosphere 
by a nuclear explosion. The term derives 
from "blackout." 

reefer. (1) A refrigerator. (2) A motor 
vehicle, railroad freight car, ship, aircraft, 
or other conveyance so constructed and 
insulated as to protect commodities from 
either heat or cold. 

retool. To do something over. 

retro. A braking rocket (retro-rocket) on 
a spacecraft. 

revolving door. The process whereby 
military officials leave the Pentagon for 
jobs with defense contractors. 

ripe. Said of a naval mine that is armed 
(i.e., it is ready for the picking). 

Rock, the. The Alternate National Com- 
mand Center (a deep-underground in- 
stallation near Camp David, Maryland, 
where three thousand top officials could 
be housed for more than a month). It lies 
under tons of mountain granite and is 
entered through two tunnels. 

romper. A ship that has moved more 
than ten nautical miles ahead of its con- 
voy and is unable to rejoin it. 

R2D2. The Navy's close-in-system Gat- 
ling gun; from its shape, which resem- 
bles that of R2D2, a robot in George 
Lucas's Star Wars films. (It has been re- 
ported that Lucas came up with the 
name while working on Star Wars, after 
seeing a box of edited film of American 
Gra^'ti labeled "Reel 2, Dialogue 2.") 

rubber duckie. An inflatable rubber 
boat towed behind a ship to confuse 
radar-guided missiles. 

Rube Goldberg. Any extremely com- 
plex or farfetched nuclear weapon. The 
name is that of a cartoonist whose spe- 
cialty was zany, oddball mechanical con- 

rug rank. A high rank (i.e., the rank of 
an officer who rates a rug on his or her 

R.V. Reentry vehicle; the cone-shaped 
package that carries a nuclear warhead 
to its target. 





Supreme Allied Commander 

salted weapon. A "dirty" nuclear 
weapon (i.e., one that has been "salted" 
with high-radiation "extras"). The term 
is officially defined in the Department 
of Defense Dictionary (1991): "A nuclear 
weapon which has, in addition to its nor- 
mal components, certain elements or 
isotopes which capture neutrons at the 
time of the explosion and produce radio- 
active products over and above the usual 
radioactive weapon debris." 

362 • WAR SLANG 

saltnik. One favoring the various Stra- 
tegic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT). 

sanitize. To edit out; to censor. 

sapf u. Surpassing all previous foul-ups 
(or fuck-ups). 

saunter. Fly at best endurable speed; 
an air-intercept code word. 

scare book. A periodic report formerly 
issued by the secretary of defense and 
entitled Soviet Military Power. It is so- 
called because of its tendency to magnify 
Soviet military strength. Scare books 
were usually released to coincide with 
the Pentagon budget request. 

scenario dependent. Dependent on a 
chain of events. 

scram. I am about to open fire. Friendly 
units get clear of indicated contact, bo- 
gey, or area. This air-intercept code word 
may be combined with an indication of 
the proper direction of withdrawal, and 
the type of fire may also be indicated 
(e.g., "Scram proximity," meaning "I am 
about to open fire with proximity-fused 
ammunition"; "Scram mushroom," 
meaning "I am about to fire a special 

scramble. To take off in a hurry; an Air 
Force term. 

scrub. To cancel a mission; to back out 
of a mission. The term may come from 
the act of rubbing — or scrubbing — one's 
mission off a blackboard. 

search and destroy. Destroy and then 
search; pure Pentagonese. 

Secdef . Secretary of defense. The Wash- 
ington Post reported in 1988 that there 
was a sign in the top man's military air- 
plane — on the door of his private 
cabin — that read "Secdef and Mrs. Car- 

second strike. A retaliatory attack (i.e., 
following a "first strike"). 

secure. Term used to underscore the as- 
sertion that the various branches of the 
services speak a different language as at- 
tested to by this anonymous statement 
which was being passed around the Pen- 
tagon in 1993: 

One reason the Military Services have 
trouble coordinating joint operations is 
that they don't speak the same language. 
For example: If you tell Navy personnel to 
"secure a building," they will turn off the 
lights and lock the doors. The Army will 
occupy the building so that no one can en- 
ter. The Marines will assault the building, 
capture it, and defend it with suppressive 
fire and close combat. The Air Force, on 
the other hand, will take out a three-year 
lease with an option to purchase. 

selected. Promoted. To be "deselected" 
is to be demoted. 

selected out. To be let go; to be fired. 

sequential dumping. The unloading 
of tons of rocks on top of missile silos. 

shadower. A seaborne observer main- 
taining contact with an object. Shadow- 
ing may be carried out either overtly or 

shelf life. Period of time during which 
a nuclear weapon can remain effective 
without being exploded. 


Sherwood Forest. A missile room on a 
submarine; because the densely packed 
missile tubes resemble enormous tree 

short fuse. A close deadline, or sus- 

shotgun. The simultaneous distribution 
of a document to several offices. 

shotgun guy. An Air Force officer used 
as an escort pilot for such jobs as flying 
diplomats to high-level conferences. In 
1990 the Washington Post referred to 
shotgun guys as "top-of-the-cloud es- 
corts." In the Old West, a man would 
"ride shotgun" next to the driver of a 

sick. Equipment indicated is operating 
at reduced efficiency; an air-intercept 
code word. 

sick paint. A radar image caused by the 
radar signal reflected from an object. 

sigint. Signal intelligence (i.e., intelli- 
gence gathered electronically rather than 
by spies). See also humint. 

sign off on. To sign or initial; to pass 

silent service. The submarine service. 
According to I. J. Galantin, in Take Her 
Deep! (1987), the name was "bestowed 
by a long-forgotten reporter, or some in- 
grained idea about classified information 
to which other branches of our armed 
forces were less sensitive." 

SINS. Situational inertial navigation 

SIOP. Single Integrated Operational 
Plan; a plan for nuclear war. Peace has 
been described as a "benign pre-SIOP 

sitrep. Situation report. 

Skunk Works. The Lockheed research- 
and-development operation where the 
SR-71 and U-2 spy planes were devel- 
oped. The term is now used more gener- 
ally. Here is how it is defined in The 
Language of Defense (1990), by Mark M. 
Eiler: "A separate program management 
operation established outside the normal 
defense acquisition process because of 
the high security classification of the 
work being performed by the contractor. 
Examples of such programs include de- 
velopment of the B-2 stealth bomber and 
the SR-71 strategic reconnaissance air- 
craft." The term was taken from the late 
Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip; illicit 
Kickapoo Joy Juice was made in Big 
BarnsmelFs Skonk Works. 

SLCM [pronounced "slick-em"). Sea- 
launched cruise missile. 

slew time. The time needed for a 
weapon to aim at a new target after firing 
at a previous one. 

SLOB. Satellite low-orbit bombardment. 

slow flyer. Cruise missile which is 
slow and low-flying. 

SNORT. Supersonic Naval Ordnance Re- 
search Track. Nothing to sniff at, this ad- 
ministrative project was running along at 
a cost of $1 million a year in the 1980s. 

snowbird. An interim assignment. 

364 • WAR SLANG 

soft. Vulnerable; not protected from nu- 
clear attack (e.g., a city). "Soft targets" 
are people, while "soft bases" are missile 
installations that are vulnerable to en- 
emy attack. 

sortie. A nuclear missile (to the crew 
operating missile sites). The term is also 
used by pilots (see under the Gulf War). 

southside basing. The nestling of U.S. 
missiles against the southern side of 
high western mesas to protect the mis- 
siles from Soviet missiles coming over 
the North Pole. 

SOW. Statement of work. 

spasm war. All-out war. The term is ta- 
boo at the Pentagon. 

Spearhead. The 3rd Armored Division, 
which spent thirty-seven years keeping 
an eye on the Iron Curtain from its base 
in Germany. It officially came home on 
January 17, 1992. It was Elvis Presley's 
old unit. 

special weapons. Nuclear arms. 

splashdown. The landing of a space 
vehicle in the ocean. 

splashed. Enemy aircraft shot down; 
an air-intercept code word. Followed by 
number and type, this term was given 
much play during the Gulf War. 

spoof. (1) To deceive the controllers of 
an enemy military satellite by making 
them think that the satellite needs con- 
trol when it does not. When an improper 
correction is made, the satellite is lost or 

disoriented, or it uses up much of its 
fuel. (2) To deceive a pilot by using elec- 
tronics or confusing tactics. 

spoofer. A contact employing electronic 
or tactical deception measures (i.e., one 
that is deceiving, or spoofing); an air- 
intercept code word. 

spook. A friendly counterintelligence 
person who inspects offices at night for 
possible security violations. 

square one. The first step in a process. 

squib. A small pyrotechnic device that 
may be used to fire the igniter in a rocket 
or for some similar purpose. 

state chicken. I am at a fuel state re- 
quiring recovery, tanker service, or diver- 
sion to an airfield; an air-intercept code 

state lamb. I do not have enough fuel 
for an intercept plus reserve required for 
carrier recovery (i.e., one is as helpless 
as a lamb); an air-intercept code phrase. 

state tiger. I have sufficient fuel to 
complete my mission as assigned; an air- 
intercept code phrase. 

stick. A number of paratroopers who 
jump from the door of an aircraft during 
one run over a drop zone. 

The Stick. The U.S.S. Theodore Roose- 
velt, because of T.R.'s motto "walk softly 
and carry a big stick." 

stick shaker. An alerting device used 
to indicate that an airplane may stall 


stovepipe. An organization aligned ver- 
tically and specializing in one functional 
area (e.g., logistics, finance and account- 
ing, or personnel training). The term also 
applies to informal vertical communica- 
tions from one action officer to another. 

strangle. To switch off equipment. 

straphanger. A person at a briefing or 
on a trip whose presence is not required. 

stratospheric drip. Fallout. 

straw man. A weak argument advanced 
as a basis for discussion. In the form of 
a document, it is sometimes referred to 
as a "think piece" and is usually the fore- 
runner of a more well thought out 

strike. An attack. According to Nigel 
Calder, in Nuclear Nightmares (1979), in 
Europe this term means a nuclear attack, 
while Americans use the term for a con- 
ventional attack also (as in, "air strike"). 
This discrepancy was especially discon- 
certing to European planners during the 
Vietnam War, when virtually everything 
the Americans did was called a strike. 

strip search. See under the Gulf War. 

sucker. A nuclear missile. 

suitcase warfare. Warfare with small, 
powerful, highly portable weapons. A 
discussion of the term appears in a re- 
port by an insurance industry think 
tank: "It is conceivable that an object the 
size of a suitcase, and carried as incon- 
spicuously, could contain any of several 
substances which could destroy whole 
structures and even whole cities." 

surviving spouse. A widow or wid- 
ower; a Department of Defense term. The 
official term for the cash settlement a sur- 
viving spouse is given is "death gratu- 
ity," which sounds like a tip you give 
an undertaker. 

suspense. The time allowed to com- 
plete an action. See also short fuse. 

SWAG. Scientific Wild-Ass Guess — as 
one might be prone to making in mili- 
tary situations. 

sweet. (1) Workable. In The Weapons 
Culture (1968), Ralph E. Lapp speaks of 
the H-bomb becoming "technologically 
sweet." (2) Generally good. In Flight of 
the Intruder (1986), Stephen Coonts ap- 
plies the term to aviation: "The bombard- 
ier reported to the ship that the tanker 
was 'sweet,' that is, it could transfer fuel, 
so the spare tanker on deck would not 
be needed." 

• tr J * * 

TACAMO. Take charge and move out. 
The Navy's E-6A TACAMO aircraft 
would be used to communicate with bal- 
listic missile submarines during a nu- 
clear war. 

tacnuk. Tactical nuclear weapon. 

Tail hook. Name for a fraternal organi- 
zation of Navy and Marine aviators tak- 
ing its name from the device on the 
underside of an aircraft that grabs the 
wire that slows the plane down on land- 
ing. The 1991 Tailhook convention was 
a lurid affair characterized by sexual ex- 
cess and acts of harassment. 

366 • WAR SLANG 

Tailhook Terms 

The investigations in the wake of the 
1991 Tailhook Convention yielded a 
tawdry slang of its own: 

ball walking, striding about with one 
testicle exposed. 

decks afoul. Call announcing a 
woman too ugly to attack. 

decks awash. Call announcing fair 

sharking. Butt biting. 

zapping. Slapping squadron emblems 
on parts of women's anatomy. 

think tank. An organization dedicated 
to research on policy issues, including 
national security. Important think tanks 
in the arena of military studies include 
the RAND Corporation and the Institute 
for Defense Analyses. 

threat fan. The area vulnerable to an 
enemy missile that could take a number 
of possible paths. 

threat tube. The path of an incoming 
enemy missile (as in, "The threat tube 
was narrow"). 

tally ho. Target visually sighted; a mili- 
tary aviation code word. Officially, the 
Department of Defense Dictionary 
(1991) adds: "This should be followed by 
initial contact report as soon as possible. 
The sighting should be amplified if pos- 
sible (e.g., 'tally ho pounce,' or 'tally ho 
heads up')." 

tank. A housing facility for a submarine 
and its innumerable spare parts. 

Tank, the. The room in the Pentagon 
where the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet; also 
known as the gold room. 

tape. The chain of command; from "red 
tape" and the similarity between a tape 
and a chain. 

terminal leave. Unused vacation time 
left over at the end of an enlistment. 

thermal radiation. Heat radiation from 
a nuclear explosion. At the source, tem- 
peratures are equivalent to those at the 
center of the sun. 

three-humped camel. The chaotic re- 
sult of the joint work of the three 
armed services. 

three pointer. An aircraft landing in 
which the three sets of wheels all touch 
down at the same time; a good landing. 

three p's. Pay, promotion, and pension. 
These are said to be the obsession of all 

throw-weight. "The combined weight 
that a ballistic nuclear missile can lift 
into flight for a given distance. Throw- 
weight determines the size and numbers 
of warheads, decoys, and penetration 
aids that a missile can carry" (according 
to The Language of Defense [1990], by 
Mark M. Eiler). 

tied on. The aircraft indicated is in for- 
mation with me (i.e., tied to the forma- 
tion); an air-intercept code word. 

tight. Said of military electronics that 
are working fine, either alone or in 


tinman. An aluminum space suit. 

Tomcat. The F-14 jet fighter. 

tooth-to-tail ratio. Combat power in 
comparison to support (noncombat) 

Top Gun. The Navy's Fighter Weapons 
School, located at the naval air station in 
Miramar, California. 

top line. The maximum dollar amount 
that the Department of Defense, a service 
branch, or other military unit has to 
spend. This is, of course, the opposite 
end of the spectrum from the well- 
known "bottom line." 

total nuclear war. All-out war. It says 
under this entry in the Department of 
Defense Dictionary (1991): "Not to be 
used. See general war." This squea- 
mishness about total war reaches a peak 
in the official Dictionary of United States 
Army Terms, which shies away from de- 
fining not only a "total nuclear war" but 
also "general war," "nuclear war," and 

touchdown. The landing of a manned 
or unmanned spacecraft. 

TRADOC. Training and Doctrine Com- 
mand (U.S. Army). 

Triad. The three elements of the U.S. 
nuclear response — submarines, land- 
based missiles, and long-range bombers. 

Trinity. The code name for the first test 
of an atomic bomb, at Los Alamos, New 
Mexico, in 1945. It was given this name 

by J. Robert Oppenheimer, who tried to 
explain why he named it in a 1962 letter 
to General Leslie R. Groves: 

There is no rational answer to your ques- 
tion about the code name Trinity. . . . Why 
I chose the name is not clear, but I know 
what thoughts were in mind. There is a 
poem of John Donne, written just before his 
death, which I know and love. From it a 

As West and East 

In all flatt Maps — and I am one — are 

So death doth touch the Resurrection. 
. . . That still does not make a Trinity; but in 
another, better known devotional poem 
Donne opens, "Batter my heart, three per- 
son'd God; — ." Beyond this I have no clues 

tube. See threat tube. 

two-man rule. A method for preventing 
the accidental or improper use of nu- 
clear weapons by requiring the joint 
activity of two people. Its official defini- 
tion is: "A system designed to prohibit 
access by an individual to nuclear weap- 
ons and certain designated components 
by requiring the presence at all times of 
at least two authorized persons each ca- 
pable of detecting incorrect or unautho- 
rized procedures with respect to the task 
to be performed." 

two-way street. The policy of buying 
arms from and selling arms to friendly 

2 x policy. The policy of massive retali- 
ation to a nuclear attack. 

368 • WAR SLANG 

• * U * • 

U-bomb. In 1955 this weapon was an- 
nounced, and never heard from again. It 
was said to combine the "best" features 
of the A-bomb and the H-bomb. 

unk-unks. Unknown unknowns; fac- 
tors considered in deciding on new 
weapons systems. "Things we not only 
don't know about, but don't even know 
we don't know about," is how John G. 
Kester defined them in his article "How 
to Speak Pentagonese," in The Whshing- 
tonian of February 1982. The term is 
used by military planners, whose unk- 
unks usually pertain to what enemy 
military planners are planning. 

unobtanium. A substance or piece of 
hardware that is desired but not obtain- 
able. This term was created in the early 
days of the space race and was adopted 
by the military. It is a parody based on 
the "-ium" of, e.g., uranium. 

up gripe. A problem with an aircraft 
that does not prevent it from flying. The 
term is defined by Stephen Coonts in Fi- 
nal Flight (1988) as a "nuisance problem 
that could wait until the bird was down 
for another problem or a planned main- 
tenance inspection before it was repaired 
or 'worked off.'" See also down gripe. 

Urgent Fury. The code name for the 
1983 invasion of Grenada. 

uti possidetis. The principle that states 
that a nation owns the territory it holds 
at the end of a war. 

UTTAS [pronounced "utahs"]. Utility 
tactical transport aircraft system; a heli- 

• * V * * 

very high. An altitude of more than 
fifty thousand feet. 

very low. An altitude below five hun- 
dred feet. 

vote. To turn the switch that activates 
and fires a nuclear missile. More than 
one person must vote — usually four, and 
all at the same time — to perform such 
an act. 

vulture's row. Position high up on an 
aircraft carrier's superstructure where 
senior officers observe flight operations. 

• a vv * • 

waist bubble. The waist, or middeck, 
catapult control cab on Nimitz-class air- 
craft carriers. 

walks on water. Miraculous; perfect. 
Officers talk of gaining walks on water 
fitness reports. 

WANAP. Washington National Airport. 

wargasm. The condition of total havoc 
that occurs when all the nuclear buttons 
get pushed. The term is an ironic play on 
"orgasm." See also spasm war. 


War Room. Term actually used by 
those who work there to describe the 
White House military communications 
center; officially called the Situation 

weaponeer. A person who prepares a 
nuclear weapon for action. 

weapons system. A weapon. At some 
point it became unfashionable to call a 
weapon a weapon; even the simplest tool 
of combat became a system. 

weps. Weapons (as in the "weps eleva- 
tor" on an aircraft carrier). 

what luck? What are the results of the 
assigned mission?; an air-intercept code 

what state? Report amount of fuel, am- 
munition, and oxygen remaining; an air- 
intercept code phrase. 

what's up? Is anything the matter?; an 
air-intercept code phrase. 

whiz kid. A systems analyst or senior 
staff member of the Department of De- 
fense staff; a derogatory term since the 
early Vietnam War era. 

wild card. A major unforeseen devel- 
opment. A nuclear holocaust, the total 
collapse of civilization in its present 
form, a worldwide totalitarian state, and 
an extraterrestrial invasion are all wild 

wild geese. Mercenaries. 

Wimex. Worldwide Military Command 

and Control System; the master alerting 
system for nuclear war. The term is a pro- 
nunciation of the acronym, "WWMCCS." 

window. (1) A gap; an opening. A "win- 
dow of vulnerability" is a defensive gap 
that would allow an enemy to make a 
first strike. (2) The period during which 
it is possible and/or economical to begin 
a space mission. 

WINE. Warning and indications in Eu- 
rope; a system to warn of an approaching 
attack. It is not to be confused with 
WINK (warning in Korea) or WISE 
(warning indicators system Europe). 

wiring diagram. An organizational 
chart (because of its resemblance to an 
electrical wiring diagram, with all of its 
lines and boxes). 

won't wash. Having little chance of fa- 
vorable consideration; unworkable. See 


wooden bomb. A weapon that is com- 
pletely reliable, has an infinite shelf life, 
and requires no special handling, stor- 
age, or surveillance. It is a concept, not 
a reality. 

woompher bomb. A weapon resulting 
from a technological breakthrough of 
such magnitude that the country that 
made it would have a decisive strategic 

wordsmith. To rewrite a document by 
smoothing out the wording without 
changing the substance. 

370 • WAR SLANG 

• -tr Y * * 

Yankee White. An extremely high level 
of clearance. It deems an individual "un- 
questionably loyal to the United States." 

yardbird. A shipyard worker. 

yellow cake. Uranium concentrates 
used in nuclear weapons. 

yellow stuff. Small tractors, earthmov- 
ers, etc., used in military operations. In 
civilian life, these vehicles are usually 

it 2 * * 

Z-bomb. A mythical bomb of such 
power that exploding it would "end it 
all." The term was used in the 1950s, and 
a stripper of that period, Lolinda Raquel, 
billed herself as "Margo The Mexican 
Z-Bomb 'The Absolute End."' 

zero-g. The state of weightlessness (i.e., 
when there is zero gravity). 

Z-gram. A memo or order in the terse, 
direct style pioneered by Admiral Elmo 
Zumwalt during his tenure as Chief of 
Naval Operations. 

zip fuel. High-energy jet fuel. 

zippers. Dawn and dusk combat air 


Calder, Nigel. Nuclear Nightmares. New York: Viking, 1979. 

Canan, James W. The Superwarriors. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1978. 

Dickson, Paul. The Electronic Battlefield. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1976. 

Jaffe, Harry. "Nuclear Devices Set Off an Explosion of Names." A 1983 dispatch from Network 

News, Inc. 
Joint Chiefs of Staff. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Joint 

Pub 1-02). Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, December 1, 1989. 
Lambdin, William. Doublespeak Dictionary New York: Pinnacle Books, 1979. 
Lapp, Ralph E. The Weapons Culture. New York: Norton, 1968. 
Molenhoff, Clark R. The Pentagon. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1967. 
"Nukespeak: Of War and SIOP." MacLean's (December 5, 1983). 
Pringle, Peter, and William Aiken. S.I.O.P.: The Secret U.S. Plan for Nuclear War. New York: 

W. W. Norton, 1983. 
Shafritz, Jay M. Words on War. New York: Prentice Hall, 1990. 
Sheehan, Neil. The Arnheiter Affair. New York: Random House, 1971. 
Sherk, William. 500 Years of New Words. New York: Doubleday, 1983. 
Semler, Eric, James Benjamin and Adam Gross. The Language of Nuclear War. New York: 

Harper & Row: 1987. 
Tsouras, Peter, and Bruce W. and Susan W. Watson. The United States Army: A Dictionary. 

New York: Garland Publishing, 1991. 
Wilson, Andrew. The Bomb and the Computer. New York: Delacorte, 1968. 
Zuckerman, Ed. "Hiding from the Bomb — Again." Harper's (August 1979). 




New Words for the Post-9/1 1 World and the Iraq War 


For Americans, the face of war was forever changed on September 11, 2001, 
with attacks on American soil aimed at killing large numbers of civilians. Sud- 
denly the terms of war were both civilian and military. Even as the initial 
shock of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon began to 
wear off it was clear that all Americans — in uniform and out — were living in 
the "new normal," a state of "low-level anxiety" in which we worry that "evil- 
doers" or "sleeper agents" could set off "dirty bombs." When the home front 
becomes the war front, distinctions between civilian and military language 
blur. The language discussed in this chapter represents that blurring. 

This attempt to capture the language of the late 1990s, the War on Terror- 
ism, and the days leading up to the second Gulf War shows that many terms 
from the first Gulf War and earlier wars were still very much in use. Some 
adopted to new times: G.I. Joe was joined by G.I. Jane and the term M.R.E. no 
longer carried the old stigma of "Meals Rejected by Everyone." 

What makes all of this collecting easier and more relevant is the help of 
online services including the website, which describes it- 
self as "a place for the Military, Police, Coastguard and the Fire service com- 
munity to share stories, news and ideas. Dedicated to men and women 
everywhere who put their lives on the line to protect our country. God, guts, 
guns, and Frosted Flakes!" Reporters and soldiers in the Middle East had ac- 

372 • WAR SLANG 

cess to the Internet and the slang of American forces in the field was sent back 
as quickly as other information was sent to the front. "With Internet access, 
my wife is able to send me digital pictures of my 8-month-old baby," said one 
soldier posted in Kuwait in early 2003. 

* A * 

above my paygrade. A retort; another 
way of saying, "Don't ask me, I'm too 
low on the totem pole." 

ace face. Red lines left on a pilot's face 
by a tight oxygen mask. 

A.D.A. Air Defense Artillery 

agent defeat. Describing a class of 
penetrating bombs aimed not at blowing 
things up, but rather incinerating stocks 
of chemical and biological agents. Preci- 
sion-guided "agent defeat" bombs are in- 
tended to puncture the warheads with 
titanium rods, then incinerate the agents 
inside without allowing vapor to escape. 

Air Force salute. A shrug of one's 

Al-Canaeda. Pejorative post-9/11 term 
for what was at the time described as 
"America's terrorist-riddled, porous- 
bordered neighbor to the north," a blend 
of al-Qaeda and Canada. This term was 
short-lived. The impact of 9/11 and sub- 
sequent events on slang was sometimes 
fleeting. Clever as it sounded at the time, 
"shoe-icide bomber" (someone who tries 
to blow up an airplane with explosive- 
filled sneakers) was only around for a 
matter of days, as was the redundant "fa- 
cial profiling." 

ALICE pack. Acronym: All-purpose, 
Lightweight, Individual Carrying Equip- 
ment pack, a field backpack which at its 
most basic is a squarish, green nylon bag 
with an aluminum frame. Still very much 
in use in 2003, but being replaced by the 
even lighter-weight MOLLE (Modular 
Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment) 
plastic-frame pack. 

alligators inside the boat. Problems 
and screw-ups; modern military metaphor 
for snafu. 

Amazon. Female soldier; not ab- 
solutely pejorative in that it is the name 
from the tribe of women warriors that 
appears in Homer's Iliad, but can be re- 
garded as a slur, especially in a negative 

American Siberia. The northern-tier 
Air Force bases in winter, such as Malm- 
strom (Montana), Minot and Grand Forks 
(North Dakota), F. E. Warren (Wyoming), 
and Ellsworth (South Dakota). 

amped out. Fatigue after being under 
the influence of combat drugs and cer- 
tain amphetamines. 

animal. A soldier who is able to en- 
dure all manner of hardships and pain 
in pursuit of the mission. Also "ma- 


asymmetric warfare. Shorthand used 
by the U.S. military for unorthodox 
attacks on an enemy's weak points, 
such as the attacks on the USS Cole, the 
U.S. embassies, and the World Trade 
Center. Lexicographer Anne Soukhanov 
said after the 9/11 attacks, "The term 
has been in the military lexicon for 
more than a decade, but the general pub- 
lic never heard of it until the past three 

at the tip of the spear. Describing the 
leading unit in combat. 

at zero. Having an enemy fighter on 
your tail. 

ate up. Describing a soldier who has no 
clue about what's going on; a state of stu- 
pidity. Defined by a contributor to the 
G.I. Jargon website as "a soldier who is 
always slacking, uniform trashed, boots 

Axis of Evil. Iran, Iraq, and North Korea 
collectively. When President Bush first 
used "Axis of Evil" in his State of the 
Union address in January 2002, the 
phrase instantly entered the lexicon of 
contemporary politics. Bush said the 
three states were so called because they 
were "seeking weapons of mass destruc- 
tion" and posed a "grave and growing 
danger." The construction has led to 
other axes, such as one declared by anti- 
globalists that is presided over by the In- 
ternational Monetary Fund, the World 
Bank, and the World Trade Organization. 
The pejorative "Axis of Weevils" was ap- 
plied to American allies (notably France 
and Germany) that did not support the 
war against Iraq in early 2003. 

a B * 

Baghdad. Official Iraq, in the same 
vein as Washington in "Washington be- 
lieves." A pre-war headline of February 
26, 2003, in the International Herald Tri- 
bune, read: "Baghdad studying UN order 
on arms." 

bag-matching. Security procedure by 
which airline passengers must be linked 
to their luggage. 

bandwidth crunch. Term applied to 
the ability of modern remotely piloted 
vehicles to use up massive amounts of 
the finite supply of bandwidth. U.S. 
forces could fly only two Predator un- 
manned planes over Afghanistan at any 
time because of the limited supply of 

battle rattle. Kevlar helmets and flak 
jackets collectively. 

battlespace. Where the action hap- 
pens, in the jargon of the twenty-first 

B.D.O. Battle Dress Overgarment. 

beans, bullets and Band-Aids. Every- 
thing troops need to fight. 

beehive. Nickname for an artillery can- 
ister that harkens back to the days when 
grapeshot was a standard load for can- 
non. It is essentially a giant shotgun 
shell that contains a load of metal balls 
or finned darts (flechettes), which are 
fired from the muzzle at a reasonably 
high velocity into infantry formations, 
making a buzzing sound, which has 
prompted the nickname. 

374 • WAR SLANG 

B-H. Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

big blue. The immensely powerful 
fuel-air explosive bomb also known as 
the daisy cutter, but officially BLU-82 — 
B.L.U. is military shorthand for "bomb 
live unit. " 

bohica. Bend over, here it comes 
again. A G.I. Jargon website contributor 
adds, "You would use bohica primarily 
when you are screwed or going to be 

bone dome. Kevlar helmet. 

bonedaddy / bonemama. Slang for 
someone suffering from starvation. 

the box. Pilots' slang for Iraqi airspace. 

bunker buster. Bomb designed to pen- 
etrate the concrete shelters housing mili- 
tary communications networks, 
especially those controlling ballistic 
missiles. By extension the term is used 
to describe anything heavy-handed. A 
book reviewer discusses a writer who "is 
at her best when she unearths the scien- 
tist's life with a trowel instead of a 
bunker buster." 

Butcher of Baghdad. Saddam Hus- 

• * c * * 

C-DAT. Computerized dumbass tanker. 

Cplus2V. Shorthand for a windowless 
armored command-and-control vehicle, 

hermetically sealed against chemical at- 
tack, which can travel at 30 miles per 
hour. The commander in this vehicle 
looks at a bank of computer screens that 
show the locations of all his units, cur- 
rent satellite imagery, and intelligence 
data, even as he cruises near the front 

CamelBak. A tough water bladder with 
shoulder straps that can be worn like a 
pack and is favored over traditional can- 
teens by troops in Afganistan and the 
Middle East. Its long sipping tube can be 
pinned to a lapel or strap near the mouth 
to allow troops to drink while on the 

Camp X-Ray. Located in Guantanamo 
Bay, Cuba; beginning in late 2001 it is the 
high-security home of Taliban and al- 
Qaeda prisoners. 

cell. A small terrorist group, affiliated 
with a larger one but not in direct contact. 

CENTCOM. The U.S. Central Com- 
mand in Qatar. 

chalk. A helicopter squad, as in this 
line from Mark Bowden's Blackhawk 
Down: "Before him, arrayed on both 
sides of the sleek UH-60 Blackhawk hel- 
icopter, was Eversmann's chalk, a dozen 
men in tan, desert camouflage fatigues." 

chalk leader. The person responsible 
for loading and unloading every aircraft, 
usually the platoon leader, who desig- 
nates a soldier to open and close the 
door of the helicopter. 

chatter. Intercepted conversations. To 
the public, it amounts to non-specified 


message traffic whose intensity is meas- 
ured as an indication of possible attack. 
Increased "chatter" will cause increased 
security and a heightened level of alert. 

check your six. Pilot jargon for "Watch 
your tail." 

chicken-soup casualty. A post-Gulf 
War term for mild battle fatigue — the 
kind treated by a few hot meals and a se- 
cure place to sleep. 

chicks in tow. Fighters lined up behind 
a tanker for midair refueling. 

Club Dead. The Guantanamo Bay, 
Cuba, detention camp for Taliban and al- 
Qaeda prisoners, which the Washington 
Post described as "the only tropical 
hideaway with a suicide watch." 

CNN effect. The fascination and dis- 
ruption created by extensive, live televi- 
sion presence in combat zones. 

coal burner. Any older jet with smoky 
engines. A member of the Air Force on 
the G.I. Jargon website adds, "Early KC- 
135's, B-52's, and F-4's come to mind." 

coalition of the willing. The approxi- 
mately three dozen U.S. allies in the 
strike on Iraq, few of whom actually sent 
troops. During the Iraq War itself the 
term "coalition forces" came to mean 
American and British forces. 

C.O.B. Close of business; the end of the 
day, as in, have that on my desk by 
C.O.B. tomorrow. 

connect the dots. Cliche of the War on 
Terrorism, meaning coming to a conclu- 
sion based on far-flung information. 

crew-served. Very large, very power- 
ful; as in, "I've got a crew-served 

cyber warfare (CyW). Officially, "Any 
act intended to compel an opponent to 
fulfill our national will, executed against 
the software controlling processes within 
an opponent's system." It boils down to 
attacks on computers, networks, and the 
Internet and ranges from massive assaults 
to stealing e-mail or taking password lists 
from a mail server, introducing viruses 
and overloading systems through e-mail 
(e-mail overflow). 


D * 

D.A.D.T. Short for "Don't ask, don't 
tell." It alludes to the nonprovocative, 
passively permissive policy toward gays 
and lesbians in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

daisy cutter. The BLU-82, a 15,000- 
pound explosive bomb that earned its 
nickname because when it is detonated 
about three feet above ground it inciner- 
ates everything within 600 yards. First 
used by the Air Force in the final year of 
U.S. involvement in Vietnam, it was of- 
ten employed to clear thick jungle areas 
to create instant helicopter landing 
zones. Daisy cutters were dropped on 
Taliban positions in Afghanistan after 
the 9/11 attacks. In December 2001, the 
American Dialect Society voted it the 
"most euphemistic" term in its annual 

376 • WAR SLANG 

"word of the year" awards "because it 
doesn't actually cut daisies. It atomizes 
them — and everything else." About the 
size of a minivan, the BLU-82 combines 
a watery mixture of ammonium nitrate 
and aluminum with air, then ignites to 
create a huge fireball. The shock wave 
can be felt miles away. 

decapitation. The process of over- 
throwing a government from the top by 
bombing strategic targets to remove the 

DEFCON. Defensive Readiness Condi- 
tion. Officially: DEFCON 5 = Normal 
peacetime readiness; DEFCON 4 = Nor- 
mal, increased intelligence and strength- 
ened security measures; DEFCON 3 = 
Increase in force readiness above normal 
readiness; DEFCON 2 = Further increase 
in force readiness, but less than maxi- 
mum readiness; DEFCON 1 = Maximum 
force readiness. The term is parodied in 
constructions like "SniffleCon 5." 

denied area. Nation or region with no 
means of covert access on the ground. At 
the beginning of 2003, Iraq was consid- 
ered a "denied area" with no U.S. access 
to insiders, no U.S. offices in the country, 
and limited opportunities to contact Iraqi 
officials when they travel abroad because 
they are usually chaperoned. 

devil doc. Marine Corps doctor ready 
to go to the front lines to treat troops. In 
the Miami Herald in February 2003, 
war correspondent Juan O. Tamayo 
writes, "They are combat doctors, the 
docs of war, the men on whom Marines, 
who like to call themselves 'Devil 
Dogs,' count on to save their lives and 

who are reverentially nicknamed the 
'Devil Docs.'" 

devil dog. Member of the U.S. Marine 
Corps, a nickname first established dur- 
ing World War I that has come back into 
common use. 

DILLIGAR Short for "Does it look like I 
give a fuck?" 

dirty bomb. A nonconventional 
weapon combining radioactive or dan- 
gerous chemical matter with an explo- 
sive charge. 

dirty bomber. A person using a dirty 
bomb. Term first applied to Jose Padilla, 
the so-called "dirty bomber" who al- 
legedly was scouting fresh attack targets 
in the United States. 

doghouse. A protuberance or blister 
housing an instrument or instruments on 
the otherwise smooth skin of a drone or 

dome of obedience. Kevlar helmet. 

dumb bombs. Sometimes called "iron 
bombs," they are traditional freefall 
bombs, as contrasted with "smart 
bombs," which have guidance systems. 
The daisy cutter is the largest dumb 
bomb in the U.S. arsenal. The distinction 
between smart and dumb bombs was 
first used in the later days of the Gulf 
War; advances in technology have made 
it all the more important. 

dust off. Quick evacuation by heli- 


to E # 

e-bomb. Microwave bomb that flashes 
millions of watts of electricity in a 
microsecond, capable of wiping out 
large power grids but without causing 
loss of life or extensive property dam- 
age. Described as "a lightning bolt in 
a cruise missile," the e-bomb's exis- 
tence was made public in early 2003 
as a weapon designed to fry Saddam 
Hussein's computers, radar systems, 
weapons launchers, radios, cellular 
phones, and even the ignition systems 
of Iraqi tanks. 

E.G.S. Everything goes to shit. 

Eighth-and-l Marine. A member of 
the Marine Corps assigned to ceremonial 
duties at the White House and else- 
where. In 1994 this term came to light 
when two Marines from Virginia ran for 
the Senate. Challenger Oliver L. North 
attempted to put this label on Sen. 
Charles S. Robb who had, in fact, been 
assigned to the White House but also had 
spent 18 months in Vietnam. 

embed, l.n. Journalist who has been 
assigned a slot within a combat unit. 2.v. 
To place a journalist within a military 
unit. In late February 2003, on the eve of 
war, over 350 news organizations had 
applied for 600 correspondents to be em- 
bedded in military units. 

embedded. Term used for hundreds of 
journalists traveling with and reporting 
on U.S. and British units as part of Oper- 
ation Iraqi Freedom. 

E.RW. Enemy prisoner of war. 

Eye- RACK. Common pronunciation 
for Saddam Hussein's country on the 
eve of war in early 2003. Parallel to 
coarse version of other ethnicities — 
Archie Bunker's "AY-rab" and "Eye- 
talian." John Koopman of the San 
Francisco Chronicle reported from 
Kuwait in March 2003: "There are no 
derogatory names for the Iraqis. At 
least, not openly. And a lot of Marines 
at Tactical Area Coyote, where much of 
California's 1st Marine Division is lo- 
cated, say they have nothing against the 
Iraqis. They're just there to do a job." 
Koopman, who was present in Vietnam 
and the first Gulf War, adds, "I don't 
hear anything in a common, or wide- 
spread sense, the way, for example, 
'gook' was tossed about so commonly 
during Vietnam." 

• -to F * * 

face time. Getting in to see and talk 
with a person at a higher command level. 

fangs out. A gung-ho fighter pilot itch- 
ing for combat. 

F.B.C.B.2. Dubbed name for "Force 
XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Be- 
low," the Internet-based communica- 
tions system which was tested in Bosnia 
during the 1990s with promising re- 
sults. The Tactical Internet, as F.B.C.B.2 
is called, takes data collected from 
thousands of global positioning satellite 
sensors aboard vehicles and aircraft and 
integrates them with battlefield intelli- 
gence from a range of sources. 

378 • WAR SLANG 

fieldcraft. The art of real combat, as op- 
posed to training and the hypothetical. It 
seems to be a parallel construction to the 
intelligence term "tradecraft." 

field expediency. Using what you 
have for what you need. For example, 
using the wrappers and cardboard con- 
tainers for M.R.E.s as targets for rifle 
practice, scratch pads or, in a real pinch, 
toilet paper. 

five by. Loud and clear, five being high 
quality, one being low. 

flash-to-bang time. The interval be- 
tween a gun's recoil and the shell's ex- 
plosion. In combat, the shorter it is, the 

flopper. Person unable to make a deci- 
sion — one who flip-flops. 

fly. Pilot. Not the most respectful term; a 
modern incarnation of "fly boy." 

flying a desk. Air Force pilot working 
an office job. 

fog of war. The ages-old condition of 
combat confusion that modern digital 
military technology is aimed at lifting. 
"You will never, ever get rid of the fog of 
war," Marine Col. Tom Bright told re- 
porters from a command center in Qatar 
in early 2003: "War is a personal busi- 
ness — inside each commander's mind is 
what he intends to do." But, he added, 
"the new technology will allow opera- 
tional chiefs to see more clearly and 
more quickly a 'mosaic of information' 

that will better inform war-fighting de- 

Fort Livingroom. Home; the duty sta- 
tion one goes back to after discharge or, 
in the case of reservists, after a period of 
active duty. 

fourth point of contact. One's ass, as 
in, "Your head is stuck in your fourth 
point of contact." The other three 
points are (1) feet, (2) knees, and (3) 

friend of a friend e-mail. Name 
given to the post-9/11 Internet rumors 
which often began with information 
collected from a "friend of friend." Typ- 
ical was a warning from a friend of a 
friend who said that he/she had infor- 
mation that shopping malls were to be 
attacked on Halloween 2001 or that cer- 
tain groups had been forewarned of the 
9/11 attacks and told to stay home from 

fubar. The acronym fubar for "fouled/ 
fucked up beyond all recognition" was, 
along with snafu (situation normal, all 
fouled/fucked up), one of World War IPs 
most enduring slang constructions. 
Fubar is a term with post-millennial 
legs used commonly in Kuwait. 

• it G * * 

gate rage. Post-9/11 reaction to in- 
tense airport security; akin to road rage. 

gate rape. Post-9/11 reaction to full- 
body searching at airport security areas. 


Fubar Flashback 

According to Stephen Spielberg in an 
interview given at the time of the 1 988 
release of his realistic epic Saving Pri- 
vate Ryan, the term "fubar" almost got 
left out of the movie. Spielberg admit- 
ted he was unfamiliar with that authen- 
tic piece of Army slang until his father, 
a World War II vet, brought it to his at- 
tention. "My dad said, 'Do you have 
the word "fubar" in this film?' And I 
said 'no,'" Spielberg recalled. "He told 
me what it meant and he said, 'We 
used to say it all the time,' so we wrote 
the scenes in. The whole thing came 
from my dad." One character spends 
much of "Ryan" trying to learn what 
fubar means. 

GENIE. Acronym for GENetic Imagery 
Exploitation, a program that can identify 
hidden weapons in X-ray images of 
carry-on baggage. 



launcher. M203 grenade 

getting mopped up. Donning chemical 
warfare gear. The Mission Oriented Pro- 
tective Posture, or MOPP, gear provides 
complete encapsulation including suit, 
hood, gloves, boots, and filtered mask. 

G.I.B. Guy In Back, term used to de- 
scribe a radar intercept officer who flies 
in the "back seat" of certain aircraft. 

G.I. Joe or G.I. Jane. New sexually in- 
clusive personification of service person, 
replacing the solo characterization of 

G.I. Joe. The generic G.I. for a member of 
the armed forces is just as common in 
the era of the War on Terrorism as it was 
in World War II. 

G.I. shower. Method of cleaning one- 
self when water is scarce. For troops 
amassing in the Kuwaiti desert in early 
2003, the definition was "baby wipes." 

giant voice. A public address system 
that broadcasts messages across a mili- 
tary base or flightline. 

Gitmo. The U.S. Navy station at Guan- 
tanamo Bay, Cuba, in Navy slang. 
Tucked away on the remote southeast- 
ern end of the island nation, it is Amer- 
ica's oldest overseas installation and a 
key patrol point for the Atlantic Fleet 
watching the Caribbean and South 
America. Now America's largest deten- 
tion center and the only U.S. military 
base on Communist soil. 

give a warm fuzzy. According recog- 
nition of new sensitivities and sensibil- 
ities in the military. Tony Allen-Mills 
of the Sunday Times (London), in a 
2001 article from Washington aptly 
titled "Fix Bayonets and Hug," says, 
"Warmth and fuzziness are not nor- 
mally associated with the U.S. military, 
but times are changing and even sol- 
diers are having to learn how to be po- 
litically correct." 

goat screw. A real mess. "Someone's 
gonna get it for this!" says a G.I. Jargon 

380 • WAR SLANG 

goat screw on ice. 
than a goat screw. 

Quite a bit worse 

go bag. Pre-packed items for evacua- 
tion. On February 14, 2003, the Washing- 
ton Post reported that "members of 
Congress were told to gather a 'go bag' of 
supplies, sensitive documents and key 
phone numbers in case of an attack." 

go 91 1 . To panic; to become terrorized. 
From the 911 emergency telephone 
number and the attacks of 9/11. 

go pills. Amphetamines in military 
parlance, the equivalent of "uppers" in 
civilian slang. Go pills have been given 
to pilots for decades, on the premise that 
they are vital for keeping aviators alert 
on extended missions. But a "friendly 
fire" incident in which go pills were 
used in April 2002 in Afghanistan that 
left four Canadian soldiers dead has 
brought new scrutiny to the practice. 
Their sleep-inducing counterparts are 
"no-go pills." 

good end. To many in the military, a 
sense of conclusion denied in the first 
Gulf War; the concept was used on the 
eve of the second Gulf War as a goal for 
the second campaign against Saddam 

good to go. Ready for action. 

gorilla snot. Popular name for yellow- 
ish-brown contact cement that cures to 
form an instant asphalt-like landing 
field. (This is also a trade name for a 
commercial substance sold to musicians 

to keep a grip on guitar picks and drum 

gravel agitator. Infantryman 

ground zero. The sixteen-acre wreck- 
age of the World Trade Center and, by ex- 
tension, the site of any disaster. The 
official pre-9/11 Army definition: "The 
central point of a nuclear detonation (or 
other large blast). Refers to the point on 
the ground below or above a nuclear det- 
onation if the device is triggered in the 
air or underground." But that meaning 
changed overnight: "It's metaphor," 
Donna Jo Napoli, a linguistics professor 
at Swarthmore College, said in the early 
2002 of the new usage. "It wasn't a nu- 
clear attack, but it leveled the place. And 
it had a nuclear effect on us as a nation." 

grunt. Old term with new explanation, 
according to an enlisted Army man on 
the G.I. Jargon website: "government re- 
ject unfit for normal training." 

• it H * * 

H.D.R. Humanitarian Daily Ration, a 
variation on the M.R.E. used to feed a 
malnourished person for one day with 
2,300 calories and in a two-meal packet. 
In the first year of the American pres- 
ence in Afghanistan under Operation 
Enduring Freedom, 3.8 million H.D.R.s 
were distributed. 

hesperophobia. Fear of the west, an 
obscure term given new relevance in the 
twenty-first century. 


holding hands. Flying in close for- 

homeland. Washington's term of choice 
for domestic America in the post-9/11 
world. In its early applications the word 
was used mostly by security merchants 
and the bureaucrats charged with defend- 
ing the country. Even Tom Ridge, head of 
the Department of Homeland Security 
and the person most closely connected 
with the term in its early years, was un- 
sure how the choice came about. "Ety- 
mology unknown; don't have a clue," 
Ridge told Elizabeth Becker, a reporter 
from The New York Times, in 2002. 

homesteading. Remaining at one mili- 
tary base for a long period of time. 

honey box. Port-a-potty. 

hoo-ah. An all-purpose, all-terrain, 
mostly -Army term for yes, roger, ready; a 
military exclamation of positive exuber- 
ance. Mark Kinkade in an April 9, 1996, 
article in Stars and Stripes said of this 
term, "Nobody's quite sure how to define 
it, but everybody knows what it means." 
Another writer, William H. McMichael 
of Military Times, has written, "In the 
Army, the expression 'hoo-ah' has, as the 
Chinese say, a thousand different mean- 
ings. 'It's basically the answer for every- 
thing,' said Sgt. Scott Lachut of the 6th 
Battalion at Fort Eustis to McMichael. 
Here are some definitions posited: (1) An 
all-purpose greeting. (2) Anything and 
everything except 'no.' (3) Good copy, 
solid copy, roger, good, great, message re- 
ceived, understood. (4) Amen." 

Homeland History 

The earliest citation that New York 
Times word columnist William Safire 
could find is by China's Xinhua News 
Agency, reporting on April 11, 1977, 
about "the mobilization of the puppet 
army and the 'homeland defense re- 
serve forces'" by South Korea. Twenty 
years later, a panel of Clinton-era 
experts recommended to Defense Sec- 
retary William Cohen that a new armed- 
forces mission considering biological 
threats be called Defense of the Home- 
land (Defense Department report). The 
Journal of Homeland Security, pub- 
lished by Analytical Services Inc., was 
founded in October 2000. And in 
February 2001 , former senators Gary 
Hart and Warren Rudman released 
their now-prophetic report about the 
lack of homeland readiness. 

On the eve of President George W 
Bush's first use of the term in a speech, 
White House sources told the Associ- 
ated Press that he would create a 
"Homeland Defense Security Office" — 
a coordination group, not a whole new 
department. At the last minute, the word 
"defense" was dropped. 

HooAH! Energy snack bar, named for 
the Army's ubiquitous expression, cre- 
ated by the Army's Soldier Systems Cen- 
ter in Natick Massachusetts. Unlike 
commercial energy bars, the Army ver- 
sion will last for three years at 80 degrees 
or six months at 100 degrees. CranRasp- 
berry is one of five HooAH! flavors 

hot line. A real or imaginary line that 
separates contaminated from uncontam- 

382 • WAR SLANG 

inated areas in nuclear, biological, and 
chemical war situations. 

Hotel Alpha. Radio call to "get out of 
there" — phonetic equivalent of "haul 

hotel warrior. Term from the first Gulf 
War for journalists who did their report- 
ing from the roofs of their hotels. The 
term is not pejorative. 

human shield. A person positioned at 
or near a military target as a deterrent to 
attack by the enemy. 

* * | * * 

ilities. Short for survivability, mobility, 
and lethality. Weapon systems are 
judged on their ilities. 

indigs. Indigenous people. 

intervasion. Term for the U.S. 1994 in- 
cursion into Haiti (Operation Uphold 
Democracy) combining intervention and 

Iraq War / Iraqi War. Most common 
name given to the military action that 
was officially termed Operation Iraqi 
Freedom by the Pentagon. In the early 
days of the conflict the media gave it dif- 
ferent names — NBC's "Target: Iraq"; 
CNN's "Strike on Iraq"; Telemundo's 
"Objetivo: Saddam" — and there was a 
serious attempt to call it Gulf War II. But 
by the end of June the vast majority of 
news outlets were calling it the Iraq War, 

although a significant number were also 
using Iraqi War, a construction more in 
keeping with the Korean War. 

iron fist. The heavily armored U.S. 
Army Third Infantry Division. 

jafdip. Just another fucking day in par- 

jafo. Just another fucking observer; 
derogatory Air Force slang for anyone 
there to observe the actions and progress 
of the troops, as usually this means a 
squad will have to baby-sit an officer or 
corporate representative in the bush. 

jay-dam. Joint Direct Attack Munition 
(JDAM), a smart weapon using global po- 
sitioning system (GPS) technology. Be- 
cause of its accuracy and relatively low 
cost, it has become the wildly popular 
"Ford Mustang of smart bombs." 

jay-dog. Joint Detention Operations 
Group Commander; the man in charge of 
detainees at Guantanamo. 

• a K * * 

keyboard jockey. Any member of the 
armed forces whose job causes that per- 
son to use a computer all day. 

Kl pill. Potassium iodide treatment 
used on the thyroid for radiation expo- 


sure; named for the symbols of the two 

kiss-and-cry area. Area designated for 
departing troops to bid farewell to family 
and friends. Term first used to describe 
the area where competitive figure skaters 
await their final grades. 

kiwi injections. A swift kick in the ass 
with your highly shined boots, from the 
name of the popular brand of shoe polish. 

* tc L * * 

let's roll. The phrase coined by Todd 
Beamer, a passenger on United Airlines 
Flight 93 who helped launch the attack 
against the hijackers over Pennsylvania. 

lie dog. To go to cover and remain mo- 
tionless while listening for the enemy. 
This is SOP for a recon team immedi- 
ately after being inserted or infilled. 

Lima Charlie. LC; loud and clear. 

live large. To enjoy the maximum of 
creature comforts; a term applied to 
U.S. troops in Kuwait in early 2003 
who, according to the Associated Press, 
"relax at umbrella-covered picnic tables 
on a wide field surrounded by eateries 
offering burgers, ice cream, pizza and 
egg rolls. A huge gym boasts aerobics 
classes and state-of-the-art cardiovascu- 
lar machines. Movies are shown on a 
wide-screen TV beside a game room 
with pingpong and chess." One of their 
officers commented, "They're living 
large right now, but if I put them out in 
a tent they're gonna be fine." 

lost lieutenant finder. A hand-held 
global positioning satellite (GPS) unit, 
which, according to a contributor on the 
G.I. Jargon website, "is relied on entirely 
too much by butter bars who can't read a 
map or use a compass." 

L.RC. Leather Personnel Carrier: your 
boots; hoofing it 

L.T. Second lieutenant. Also called "el 
tee," "louie," "butter bar," and the 
"missing link." 

* * M * * 

maggot. Clueless G.I. 

media puke. A journalist. Also called 
headaches, pencils, and JIB rats. JIB is 
short for Joint Information Bureau. 

Middle Eastern Theater. The Persian 
Gulf and nearby regions as a military 

mike bag. Nickname for "Modular 
Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment" 
(MOLLE), a backpack with a plastic frame. 

mike mike. Millimeter. "Lay down 
some 20 mike mike" is military jargon 
for firing a 20-millimeter cannon. 

The Millennium Cohort. Perhaps the 
most ambitious epidemiological project 
ever is a long-term study of a randomly 
chosen sample of members from all 
branches of the armed services. It has en- 
rolled 75,000 people since it began on No- 
vember 9, 2000, with plans to add another 
20,000 in 2004 and 2007. Its members an- 

384 • WAR SLANG 

swer a long questionnaire about their 
health, habits, symptoms, and daily func- 
tioning — exactly what was not known 
about Gulf War syndrome sufferers before 
they got ill. They will be re-questioned 
every three years for twenty-one years. 
"It's fair to say that the Gulf War experi- 
ence was largely responsible for its cre- 
ation," said Cmdr. Margaret A. K. Ryan, 
the Navy epidemiologist in charge of the 
Millennium Cohort when it was an- 
nounced in 2000. 

misunderstandistan. The geographical 
inability to differentiate among unstable 
Central Asian nations ending in -stan 
such as Afghani-stan, Tajiki-stan, Turk- 
meni-stan, Uzbeki-stan. These names are 

The MOAB Law of 
Unintended Consequences 

Several days after ABC News revealed 
the existence of the MOAB, it carried a 
follow-up story that began, "The tiny 
town of Moab, Utah, has asked Presi- 
dent George W. Bush not to use the 
acronym MOAB for a new bomb be- 
cause it could damage the image of the 
city, best known for outdoor recre- 
ation." A letter from the Grand County 
Council to the White House said, "We 
realize that it is an acronym, but we are 
still concerned about the effects it may 
have on our community. Moab relies on 
tourism, both domestic and foreign, 
and has worked for many years and 
spent hundreds of thousands of dollars 
to create an image that 'Moab' is a 
destination." The name of the town in 
Utah had been named after the biblical 
kingdom southeast of the Dead Sea. 

formed by adding this suffix (meaning 
"place where one stays," i.e. homeland or 
country) to the usually pluralized name 
of the people living in that country. 

MOAB. Massive Ordnance Air Burst 
bomb, or, as it was immediately dubbed, 
the Mother Of All Bombs. It is a bigger 
version of the 15,000-pound "daisy cut- 
ter" used in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf 
War, and Afghanistan. When first dis- 
closed in February 2003, MOAB, then 
still experimental, was described as a 
21,000-pound bomb that would be 
pushed out the back of a C-130 transport 
and guided to its target by satellite. Be- 
cause it is not dropped by parachute, as 
was the daisy cutter, it can be let go from 
much higher altitudes. First reported by 
ABC News, which said of it: "The 
MOAB's massive explosive punch, 
sources say, is similar to a small nuclear 

molly pack. From MOLLE, an acronym 
for "Modular Lightweight Load Carrying 
Equipment"; a lightweight pack with a 
plastic frame often referred to as the 
"mike bag." 

monkey suit. Originally the fur suit 
used by World War I and II aviators fly- 
ing at high altitudes; now used to refer to 
the military uniform in general. 

Monopoly money. Foreign currency. 

MOPP suit. A specially designed suit 
that goes over one's uniform to prevent 
contamination and exposure; full body 
protective gear. MOPP stands for Mis- 
sion Oriented Protective Posture. 

Mother Of All Bombs. See MOAB. 


M.R.E. Meals Ready to Eat, a staple for 
U.S. troops in the field. The M.R.E. of the 
early twenty-first century is a far cry from 
the M.R.E.s of a decade earlier, which 
were widely lampooned as Meals Re- 
jected by Everyone. In a nod to inter- 
national tastes, they now offer beef 
enchiladas, chicken in Thai sauce, jam- 
balaya, and pasta alfredo. The chemical 
smell of the earlier versions of the M.R.E.s 
is gone, there is more variety to the 
entrees, and there are even vegetarian of- 
ferings. The 2003 version M.R.E. is light- 
weight, compact, easily opened, and is 
able to withstand a parachute drop from 
1,250 feet or a helicopter drop of 100 feet 
with no parachute, endure inclement 
weather, and survive temperature ex- 
tremes from minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit 
to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It must have a 
minimum shelf life of three years at 80°F 
and last for six months at 100°F, be 
highly acceptable to troops, and meet the 
Office of the Surgeon General's nutri- 
tional requirements as identified in Army 
Regulation 4025, Nutritional Standards 
for Operational Rations. Still, some find 
these meals hard to pass through the sys- 
tem and to them they are Meals Refusing 
to Exit. 

mummify. The practice of burying one- 
self underground in loose dirt to surprise 
the enemy, used mostly in the desert. It 
was originated by Arab nomads. Those 
who do this are known as mummies. 

• A N A • 

N.B.C. Nuclear, biological, and chemi- 
cal weapons as a class. "In the past, the 

troops would joke that N.B.C. stood for 
No-Body Cares," a student from 10th 
Mountain Division soldier at Fort 
Drum's Nuclear, Biological, and Chemi- 
cal School told an AP reporter in 2002. 
"But we are never going back to the way 
war was. Chemical and biological threats 
are now something that will always be a 

news crawl. Headlines at the bottom of 
television screens, a staple of cable news 
channels in the post-9/11 world. 

NICKA. Pentagonese for a computer- 
ized nomenclature procedure called the 
Code Word, Nickname, and Exercise 
Term System. Keeps track of hundreds of 
two-word code names that defense plan- 
ners craft with more care than some par- 
ents do in naming their children. 

9/1 1 . September 11, 2001— or 9-1-1, as 
in an emergency call. It became univer- 
sal shorthand for the terrorist attacks on 
the Pentagon and World Trade Center — 
and everything related to them — within 
days. Using a date to denote the tragedy 
is unusual, because tragedies are usually 
named for their location (Pearl Harbor, 
Kent State, Oklahoma City). It has also 
been termed September 11, Terrible 
Tuesday, Black Tuesday, and, in Span- 
ish, Negro Once. 

98,000 tons of diplomacy. An aircraft 
carrier. Term (sighted in a Washington 
Post article of November 28, 2002) used 
by the commanding officer of the USS 
Harry S Truman to describe his ship. 

nods / nogs. Night-vision goggles 
(NVGs). They attach to the front of the 

386 • WAR SLANG 

helmet and transform night into green- 
tinted day, giving troops a big advantage 
over less sophisticated opponents. They 
run on A A batteries. 

no-go pills. Drugs used to calm after 
combat. See go-pills. 

NORDO. "No Radio"; radio failure. 

No Such Agency. The National 
Security Agency (NSA), so called be- 
cause of its secret budget and ultra-secret 

nugget. A new pilot assigned to an air- 
craft carrier; a rookie at landing jets at sea. 

• it O * * 

oh-dark thirty. Early in the morning; 
well before dawn. 

on the economy. Living outside of a 
military base. 

one-wire. Navy electrician, while a 
"two-wire" is an electronics technician. 

oohrah. Marine Corps' version of the 
Army's hooah. 

Operation Anaconda. A U.S. offen- 
sive against dug-in al-Qaeda and Taliban 
troops in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia 
province. The operation officially ended 
when deemed a success by General 
Tommy Franks on March 18, 2002, but 
others would disagree. A March 18, 2002, 
Washington Post article on slang sug- 
gested by the War on Terrorism contains 

"Op-An," from Operation Anaconda, as 
a new word for "total failure and defeat." 

Operation Infinite Justice. Original 
name given to America's war on terror; 
however, it offended Muslims and was 
replaced with "Enduring Freedom." 

Operation Iraqi Freedom. The name 
given to the U.S.-led military campaign to 
overwhelm the Iraqi military, overthrow 
the regime of Saddam Hussein, and un- 
cover and destroy weapons of mass de- 

opfor. Opposition forces. 

optempo. Optimum tempo. 

outside the wire. Outside U.S. Army 

over the beach. Naval aviation slang 
for missions over land — notably, routine 
patrols over the southern no-fly zone. 

oxygen thief. Totally useless person. 

• -tr P ■* • 

pencil whip. To make up a story for the 

penguin. Air Force members who 
don't fly. They're also called ground 
hogs, wing weenies, chairborne rangers, 
pencil pushers, and desk jockeys. 

pinger. Derogatory term used by the 
guys in the electronics field to describe a 
new guy in the unit. Derived from a 


training school prank in which the first 
project assigned to the trainee was to as- 
semble a "pinger detector." 

Play Doh. Plastic explosive, after the 
trade name for children's modeling 

P.M.S. Pre-maneuver syndrome; jargon 
that acknowledges that military couples 
are prone to argue before shipping out 
because it is easier to say goodbye when 
you're angry with someone. 

pogue. A complainer. 

RO.V. Privately owned vehicle; one's 
own car, as opposed to a G.O.V. (govern- 
ment vehicle). 

porky. Someone carrying 
equipment or weaponry 

too much 

pucker factor. Level of anxiety experi- 
enced by aircrews. 

puke. A term of mild derision; some- 
body in a different career field from yours. 
For instance, an admin puke, PA puke, 
headquarters puke, media puke, etc. 

punch out. Eject or bail from an air- 
craft. Sometimes used to mean going 
home for the day or leaving. 

• * R it * 

Ranger pudding. A combination of 
M.R.E. cocoa beverage mix, coffee 
creamer, and water mixed to the consis- 
tency of pudding. When made with less 

water, Ranger pudding also can be baked 
into a brownie. It is one of a number of 
dishes created from M.R.E. ingredients. 

Resolution 1441. Crucial UN resolu- 
tion demanding Saddam Hussein ac- 
count for and relinquish all biological, 
chemical, and nuclear weapons. 

R.H.I.R Rank has its privileges. World 
War II slang, just as true today. 

Rimbo. Female soldier, a play on the 
name of her male equivalent Rambo. 

roaches. Opposition forces dwelling in 
or operating from caves or tunnels. 

Road Soldier. Anyone who spends a 
lot of time avoiding work; based on 
acronym for "retired on active duty." 


Or What?" 

"aRe yoU Shitting Me 



Sammy. Somalis during Operation Re- 
store Hope. Patrick D. McGowan {Out- 
side The Wire: Confessions of an 
Infantryman] added that the nickname 
was reserved for certain Somalis: 
"Sammy was slang for any Somali citi- 
zen that stole from, badgered, or fought 
U.S. forces. Another unique word heard 
was 'Sammy Stick,' a tool used as a head 
basher for vagrant Somalis that at- 
tempted to grab anything not tied down 
in a vehicle." 

Sandbox. Saudi Arabia. Also called the 
"Desert" and the "Beach." 

388 • WAR SLANG 

Sandland. The Middle East. 

sci-fi. Generic label applied to the most 
advanced military technology — the e- 
bomb, for example. 

scorched-ocean policy. A military 
tactic of releasing crude oil and igniting 
it as a deterrent. It is an imagined and 
feared tactic modeled after the scorched 
earth policy adopted by the Chinese 
when the Japanese invaded Manchuria 
in World War II. 

see pick. Slang for Coalition Public In- 
formation Center or C-PIC where U.S. 
commanders give daily briefings; it be- 
came a TV staple during the first Gulf 

self-kill mode. Built-in provision to 
battlefield electronic gear that will de- 
stroy the unit if it falls into enemy hands. 

September 10th. Applied to someone 
who is naive or oblivious, as in "She's so 
September 10th." 

Sham Foo Master. The soldier who 
manages to do nothing yet look very busy 
all day. 

shithook. Familiar name given to the 
CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter. 

shock and awe. Tactic of psychologi- 
cally overwhelming the enemy and, by 
extension, intimidating the world's pop- 
ulation. In World War II, Japan's fierce re- 
sistance crumbled after atomic bombs 
leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In plan- 
ning for war against Iraq, "shock and 
awe" was envisioned as a massive bomb- 

ing campaign at the same time as inva- 
sions from the north, south, and west. 

showstopper. Any condition that will 
keep a G.I. out of a combat zone. Bad 
teeth is a major showstopper. 

sierra hotel. Pilotspeak for "Super 

skate. Not working hard on the job. 

skid lid. Kevlar helmet. 

sleeper cell. Covert location where ter- 
rorists await a signal or orders to move 
into action. 

slick sleeve. An airman basic. 

slimed. Affected by chemical agents. 

smokies of the sea. The U.S. Coast 
Guard in a law enforcement role. 

Smurf. Blue-helmeted UN forces, be- 
cause of the similarity of their uniform 
color to the blue comic/cartoon trolls. 

snake eater. A member of special 
forces; also, a light infantryman. 

sniffer drone. Unmanned aircraft pro- 
grammed to detect the first whiff of 
chemical gas attacks with nerve agents 
such as tabun, sarin, or VX. 

SniffleCon 5. It means it's going to be a 
cold, cold night with layers and layers of 
clothing. Troops stationed in Udairi 
Range, Kuwait, at the end of 2002 told a 
reporter from the Atlanta Journal Consti- 
tution that preparing for such a night 
was "to go SniffleCon 5." 



tar attack. 

An enemy artillery or mor- 

speed bumps. Iraqi War slang for ob- 
stacles big and small (ranging from Iraqi 
resistance to logistical problems of the 
Pentagon's own making) on the road to 

spoon. Cook (the mess sergeant is the 
head spoon). 

spud gun. M203 grenade launcher. 

SRP. Soldier readiness processing, a 
process that involves checking medical 
and dental records, renewing vaccina- 
tions where needed, and providing 
short-term procedures such as tooth ex- 

The Stan. Afghanistan, to U.S. troops 
posted there. 

still pissing water from West Point. 

A young officer just out of the USMA. 
West Point can be replaced with An- 
napolis, home of the USNA. 

stop-loss. Policy preventing service 
members from retiring or leaving the 
service at their scheduled time. Stars 
and Stripes reported on February 21, 
2003, that "active-duty soldiers whose 
units are part of a secret war plan involv- 
ing Iraq now are prevented from volun- 
tarily leaving the service, according to a 
stop-loss policy announced Thursday by 
Army leaders." 

stop movement. Policy preventing 
permanent changes of station. A stop 
movement order was issued in January 
2003, in anticipation of war against Iraq. 

Stuck in the Stan. Remote posting to 

SWAT team. Seeds, Weeds, And Trash. 
Says a contributor to the G.I. Jargon web- 
site "When you get in trouble, and they 
won't let you carry a gun anymore, they 
send you to the SWAT Team!" 

• ■& T * * 

tactical Internet. See F.B.C.B.2. 
tank killer. Apache helicopter. 

TAP apron. 

tive apron. 

Toxicological agent protec- 

target-rich environment. Pilotese for 
more targets than bombs. 

terrorist. A person who employs terror 
or terrorism, especially as a political 
weapon. The word originated during the 
French Revolution when enemies of the 
state were guillotined in the Reign of 
Terror. "Those hellhounds called terror- 
ists ... are let loose on the people," 
British politician Edmund Burke wrote 
in one of the earliest usages cited by the 
Oxford English Dictionary. 

theoterrorism. Attacks on civilians for 
religious purposes. 

t-lar. That looks about right; used to de- 
scribe seat-of-the-pants flying and other 
outside-the-box behavior. 

tore up. Messed up, broken, messy, un- 

390 • WAR SLANG 

total goat fuck. Situation in which 
everything that could go wrong did go 

tracked Budweiser. An M2 Bradley, a 
reference to the fact that it's made out of 

trained killer. A recent graduate of 
technical school or other non-weapons 
training, such as "He's an IT trained 

T-rations. Large tins of food such as 
spaghetti or chicken chow mein heated 
and brought out in trucks. 

triple-a. Anti-aircraft artillery fire. 

tunnel rat. Soldier whose job it is to 
search underground for the enemy. 

turn and burn. To service an aircraft 
quickly and get it airborne again. Also 
called a hot turn. 

turtle. Kevlar helmet. According to a 
posting on the G.I. Jargon website, 
"when you head-butt your buddy, it is 
usually termed 'two turtles fucking.'" 

* u i* 

un-OSS. To get off of, or out of, as in 
"Let's un-ass this place!" 

unit. Military grouping. Examples: divi- 
sion, corps, or aircraft carrier group. 

w * 

wag. Wild-ass guess. 

wand. To use a wand-like electronic rod 
which is moved up and down a person's 
body to check for the presence of metal. 

wander. Any security enforcer who 
waves metal-detecting wands over oth- 
ers. Commonly applied to airport secu- 
rity personnel. 

war belt. Web belt worn in the field, 
from which to hang canteens, etc. 

warmed over, hammered dog shit on 
a soda cracker. Hangover, Navy style. 

warrior wipes. Certificates of achieve- 

water buffalo. 

behind a truck. 

Tank of potable water 

wafwot. What a fucking waste of time. 

weapon of mass destruction. Any 

delivery system capable of inflicting 
massive destruction to property and/or 
population, using chemical, biological, 
or radioactive material; also known by 
the abbreviation WMD which some have 
acronymized to "We Mad." 

weapon ize. To refine a naturally oc- 
curring agent to the point that it func- 
tions as a weapon, as in "weaponizing" 
anthrax or smallpox. 

weapons-grade. Powerful enough to 
kill; weapons-grade uranium, for ex- 
ample. Beyond the military it is used to 
describe something extreme ("weapons- 
grade salsa") or powerful (Bobby Hull's 
"weapons-grade slap shot"). 


wetsu. We expect this shit usually. 

whitewalls. A hair cut high above the 

Winnebagos of death. The trucks 
that, according to U.S. intelligence agen- 
cies, the Iraqi military used as mobile 
biological weapons labs. 

wizzo. Nickname for weapons systems 
officers, also known as backseaters. 

W.T.F.O. What the fuck, over. Accord- 
ing to a G.I. Jargon informant, the term is 
"commonly used to describe a situation 
or position that is completely not what 
one expects. For example, cold weather 
gear humped to Kuwait, W.T.F.O." 

yankin' and ban kin'. Fighter pilot 
term for aggressive aerial maneuvers. 



Thanks to David K. Barnhart, Joseph C. Goulden, John Koopman, Jesse H. Moore V, the late 
Robert F. Perkins, the late Charles D. Poe, and Bob Skole for their help. Also thanks to the 
many contributors to the G.I. Jargon website. Articles which proved useful: 

Allen-Mills, Tony. "Fix Bayonets and Hug: Inside Washington." Sunday Times London (June 
24, 2001). 

Auchrnutey, Jim. "The Power of Language." Atlanta Journal-Constitution (October 21, 2001). 

Becker, Elizabeth. "Prickly Roots of 'Homeland Security.'" New York Times (August 31, 2002). 

"Buzzwords." Newsweek (May 10, 1993). 

Polman, Dick. "This Homeland Is Your Homeland, This Homeland Is My Homeland. Milwau- 
kee Journal Sentinel (December 8, 2002). 

Wax, Emily. "In Times of Terror, Teens Talk the Talk: Boys Are 'Firefighter Cute, Messy Room 
Is 'Ground Zero' in Sept. 11 Slang." Washington Post (March 18, 2002). 

Index of Defined Words 
and Phrases 

A-l, 3 

A-day, 116 

a-gunner, 260 

A-ration, 119 

A.A., 116, 335 

A.A.F., 300 

A.B., 116 

A.B.C., 335 

A.B.C. powers, the, 37 

A.B.C.D., 116 

A.C.M., 300 

A.D.A., 372 

A.D.C., 116 

A.E.F., 37 

A.F.V., 300 

AG., 116 

A.M.T. landing, 38 

ARC, 119 

A.R.'s, 120 

AT., 120 

A.T. Antitank, 301 

A.W.O.L., 3, 39, 121 

Abdul, 235, 300 

able, 116 

about played out, 3 

above my paygrade, 372 

above the salt, 116 

absolute dud, 335 

accidental war, 335 

accordion war, 235 

ace, 37 

ace face, 372 

ace of aces, 37 

Ace of Diamonds Division, 37 

ace of spades, 260 

aces up, 37 

acey-veecee, 335 

ack-ack, 116 

acorn cracker, 116 

Acorn Division, 37 

acre-foot, 116 

acting jack, 37, 260 
Adam with a dead battery, 116 
Adam with a dead pan, 116 
Adam with a flickering flame, 

Adam with a frozen puss, 116 
Adam with a sour puss, 116 
Adam with an anchor, 116 

PAC, 335 
admiral of the Swiss navy, 116 
admiral's watch, 116 
adopt-a-pilot, 300 
after Tokyo, 116 
age of moon, 336 
agency, the, 260 
Agent Orange, 260 
aggie, 37, 235 
aggressor republic, 235 
Agnew, 3 
agony buggy, 117 
agony bus, 117 
agony chariot, 117 
agony crate, 117 
agony hack, 117 
agony wagon, 117 
ah-ah treatment, 37 
aim point, 336 
air, 260 

Air America, 260 
air breathing, 300, 336 
air can, 117 
air canary, 117 
air cav, 260 
Air Force salute, 372 
air goose, 117 
air hawk, 117 
air hog, 117 
air Jane, 117 
air Lizzie, 117 
air merchant, 117 
air rock, 117 

air strike, 235 

Air support, 336 

air-to-mud, 260 

airborn copulation, 260 

airedale, 117 

airgraph mail, 117 

AirLand warfare, 300 

airmobile, 260 

airnat, 37 

airplane driver, 300 

airstrip, 117 

airtorial, 117 

airwing Alpo, 300 

Al K. Hall, 117 

Al-Canaeda, 372 

Alamo Division, 37 

albatross, 117 

Alcatraz, 260 

Alcoholics Anonymous, 260 

ALCUM, 336 

ALICE, 300, 372 

all guts, 117 

all hands, 117 

all hot and bothered, 117 

all in the wind, 117 

all the aces, 118 

all the way, 260 

all the whole cheese, 118 

all wool and a yard wide, 118 

all's quiet on the western front, 

all-American chump, 117 

All- American Division, 37 

all-out, 117 

all-outer, 118 

all-terrain vehicle, 300 

alligator, 117 

alligator bait, 117 

alligators inside the boat, 372 

alio, 37 

almond-eye, 118 

Alpha Hotel, 260 

394 • INDEX 

Alpha Sierra, 260 

alphabet job, 118 

ALTAIR, 336 

amalgam, 38 

Amazing Grace, 300 

Amazon, 372 

ambush academy, 260 

America first, 38 

Americal Division 261 

American Club, 118 

American pony, 38 

American Siberia, 372 

AMF, 261 

AMG, 118 

AMGOT, 118 

ammo, 38, 118 

ammo humper, 261 

ammunition, 38 

ammunition wife, 118 

amped out, 372 

amphibious operations, 118 

Anaconda Plan, 3 

anchor, 118 

anchored, 336 

Andy Gump, 118 

angel, 118, 261 

angel facotry, 118 

angels, 300, 336 

angels of Bataan, 118 

angel's scream, 118 

angel's whisper, 118 

Angry Nine, 235 

ANGUS, 336 

animal, an, 372 

animal, the, 261 

animals of the Army, 261 

ank, 118 

ankle chokers, 118 

ankle express, 261 

Ann, 118 

answer the last call, 119 

answer the last muster, 119 

answer the last roll, 119 

answer the last roll call, 119 

answer to the she-gal's dream, 

anti-gas heater, 119 
Antichrist, the, 300 
antipersonnel, 336 
antipersonnel mine, 119 
any sailor, 300 
any soldier, 300 
Anzac, 38, 119 
Anzio amble, 119 
apartment, 38 
ape, 261 

ape with a frozen pan, 119 
ape with a sour puss, 119 

applesauce enema, 261 

apportioning the poverty, 336 

apron, 119 

apron chaser, 119 

apron crazy, 119 

apron dizzy, 119 

apron jumper, 119 

apron screwy, 119 

apron with a flickering flame, 

apron with a nip, 119 

apron with round heels, 119 

aprons, 38 

Archie, 38 

Arctic whiteout, 119 

area denial weapon, 300 

argue the toss, 38 


Arizona Territory, 261 

arm dropper, 119 

armed to the teeth, 120 

armored heifer, 120 

armpit sauce, 261 

armstrong, 337 

Army Bible, 120 

Army brat, 120, 261 

Army chicken, 120 

Army dick, 120 

Army game, 38 

Army lid, 120 

Army strawberries, 120 

Army worm, 120 

Army-stitch Day, 120 

arrival, 39 

arsenal wear, 120 

artichoke suit, 301 

artie, 261 

artillery, 39 

arty, 301 

Arvin, 261 

as close as five minutes to 

eleven, 120 
as close as twenty minutes to 

eight, 120 
as loud, 261 
asbestos Joe, 120 
asbestos papa, 120 
ash can, 39, 120 
ash-can patrol, 120 
Ashcan City, 236 
ashtray, 301 
Asiatic, 27 
asparagus bed, 120 
asparagus stick, 120 
ass and trash mission, 261 
assault ration, 39 
asthma, 120 
asymmetric warfare, 373 

at low water, 121 

at the tip of the spear, 373 

at zero, 373 

atabrine, 120 

ate up, 373 

atomic age, 121 

atomic cemetery, 337 

atomic itch, 337 

atomic words, 337 

attaboy, 39 

Attaboy Special, 39 

attrit, 301 

auger in, 236 

Aunt Jemima, 121 

auntie, 337 

awkward squad, 121 

AWOL bag, 261 

Axis of Evil, 373 

Axis rat, 121 

Axis snake, 121 

Axis watermoccosin, 121 

axle grease, 39, 121 


B&B, 236, 262 
B-2, 135 
B-ache, 121 
b-bag, 124 
b-bang, 119 
B-girl, 126 
B-ration, 133 
B.A., 121 
B.A.R., 123, 262 
B.C., 124, 262 
B.C.D., 301 
B.CD.'s, 301 
B.C.F., 338 
B.D.A., 301 
B.D.O., 373 
B.D.U.'s, 301 
B-H., 374 
B.M.O., 302 
B.M.P., 302 
B.P., 44 
B.T.O., 237 
B/N, 302 
baby, 121 
baby carriage, 121 
baby elephant, 39, 121 
baby shit, 261 
BACK drill, 301 
back in your hole, 121 
back patter, 121 
back scratcher, 121 
back slapper, 121 
back tell, 337 

INDEX • 395 

backbiter, 121 
backbone, 27, 121 
backchannel, 337 
Backfire, 337 
backpack nuke, 337 
bad paper, 261 
badgy, 121 
badlands, 236 
Baedeker invasion, 121 
Baedeker raids, 121 
baffle paint, 121 
Baghdad, 373 
Baghdad Betty, 301 
Baghdad boil, 301 
Baghdad Buffoon, 301 
bag-matching, 373 
bagoose, 121 
bags of mystery, 122 
bail out, 122 
bail-out ration, 122 
baka, 122 
baka bomb, 122 
bakehead, 122 
baksheesh, 122 
Balbo, 122 
baldheaded, 122 
bali bali, 236 
balisage, 337 
ball of fire, 122 
balloon barrage, 122 
balloon goes up, the, 337 
balloon juice, 122 
balloonist, 122 
balls of fire, 122 
balmy, 39 

Baltimore steak, 122 

bam, 122 

BAMBI, 337 

bamboo curtain, 236 

Bamboo Fleet, 122 

bamboo juice, 122 

banana clip, 261 

banana smoke, 262 

band-aid, 262 

bandit, 122, 262, 301 

bandwidth crunch, 373 

bang it out, 122 

bang out, 301 

bang up, 122 

banjo, 122 

bantam, 39, 122 

bantam doughboy, 39 

banzai, 123 

baptism of fire, 39 

baptized by fire, 123 

barbed-wire disease, 39 

barbwire garters, 39 

bare-ass, 262 

bark, 123 

barker, 123 

barking of the dogs of war, 123 

barking of the sea dogs, 123 

barking of the war dogs, 123 

barndook, 40 

barn door, 40 

baron, 40 

barrack wacky, 123 

barracks 13, 123 

barracks bag, 123 

barracks bags, 123 

barracks lawyer, 123 

barrel, 40, 123 

baseball, 262 

bashed in, 40 

basic, 262 

basic encyclopedia, 337 

basin crop, 123 

basket case, 40 

bat the breeze, 123 

bathtub, 123 

battery acid, 123 

battle bowler, 123 

battle breakfast, 124 

battle rattle, 373 

battle star, 337 

battle the watch, 124 

battle winner, 301 

battlespace, 373 

battlewagon, 124 

battling bastards of Bataan, 124 

battling sons of the air, 124 

Bay of Pigs, the, 338 

bayonet, 4, 40 

bayonet course, 124 

bazooka, 124 

beach, 302 

beach comber, 124 

beach pounder, 124 

beachcomb, 124 

beachcomber, 40 

beached, 124 

beachhead, 124 

beachmaster, 124 

beacon, 124 

Beagle, 302 

beak cover, 40 

beam, 124 

bean, 125 

bean gun, 125 

bean jockey, 125 

bean king, 125 

Bean Patch, 236 

bean rag, 236 

bean shooter, 41, 125 

bean spiller, 125 

bean tote, 41 

beans, 41, 125 
beans and dicks, 262 
beans and motherfuckers, 262 
beans, bullets and Band-Aids, 

Bean town special 125 
bear, 262 
bearcat, 125 
Bear, the 302 
bearded lady, 125 
beast, 125 
beat a retreat, 125 
beat all creation, 125 
beat one's gums, 125 
beat someone's ears in, 125 
beat the breeze, 125 
beat the can off of , 125 
beat the devil out of, 125 
beat the hell out of, 125 
beat the mill, 125 
beat the sap out of, 125 
beat the tar out of, 125 

beat to a frazzle, 125 

beat to a jelly, 125 

beat to a mummy, 125 

beat up on, 125 

beat-up, 125 

beaut, 125 

become a gold star in the 
mother's window, 125 

bed-check Charlie, 236 

BEDOC, 338 

bedpan commando, 125 

Bedrock, 302 

beef, 125 

beef boat, 125 

Beef Villas, 41 

beehive, 373 

beehive round, 262 

beep, 125 

before the wind, 125 

behavior report, 125 

belcher, 125 

believer, 262 

bell tent, 125 

bell the cat, 4 

bells and whistles, 338 

belly cousin, 125 

belly landing, 126 

belly robber, 4, 41 

belly tank, 126 

bellyache, 4, 121 

below the salt, 126 

below the zone, 338 

Beltway bandit, 338 

bend 'er, 126 

bend a bend, 126 

bend a corner, 126 

396 • INDEX 

bend the throttle, 126 

bends and motherfuckers, 262 

benzine board, 126 

benzine wagon, 126 

Bertha, 41 

Bertha pill, 41 

Best of luck and God bless you, 

Betsy the Sniper, 41 
better fraction, 126 
Betty Crocker, 262 
Bevo officer, 41 
bias, 338 
big 20, 262 
big America, 126 
big bean, 126 
big belly, 262 
Big Ben, 126 
Big Bertha, 41 
Big Bill, 41 
big bird, 338 
big blue, 82, 302, 374 
big blue team, 126 
big bow-wow, 41, 126 
big boy, 41, 262 
big boy with a fever, 126 
big boys, 262 
big bozo, 126 
big brawl, 126 
big bullet, 262 
big bus, 126 
Big Charlie, 262 
big chicken dinner, 302 
big chump, 126 
big cluck, 126 
big clunk, 126 
big dame hunter, 126 
Big E, the, 126 
Big Eight, 236 
Big Five, the, 41 
big fracas, 126 
big friend, 126 
big girl with the torch, 126 
big guy, 127 
big Jeep, 127 
big John, 127 
Big Lizzie, 41 
big mix-up, 126 
big one, 338 
big P.X. in the sky, 262 
big pickle, 236 
Big Push, the, 41 
big R, 236 
big red, 302 
Big Red One, 262 
big row, 126 
big rumpus, 126 
big set-to, 127 

big ship, 127 

big shotgun, 262 

big show, 126, 127 

Big Show, the, 41 

Big Six in the Sky, 302 

big stick, 27 

big stuff, 41 

big thing, 4 

Big Three, 127 

big 20, 262 

big ticket, 4, 41, 127 

big top, 262 

big wheel, 127 

Big Willie, 41 

bigot, 127 

bilge rat, 127 

Bill, 41 

Billard, 41 

bimbo dough, 127 

bimbo dust, 127 

bimbo nuts, 127 

bimp, 302 

Bing boy, 42 

binged, 42 

bingo, 127, 338 

bingo field, 338 

bird, 236, 262, 338 

bird colonel, 262 

bird in the monkey suit, 127 

bird of paradise, 127 

bird shit, 263 
bird's-eye view, 127 
birdboat, 127 
birdfarm, 263 
birdland, 263 
birdman, 338 
birdseed, 127 
biscuit blast, 127 
biscuit gun, 127 
bite and hold, 42 
bite the dust, 127 
bitter ender, 42 
blab off, 127 
black, 338 
black boat, 42 
black book, 338 
black box, 338 
Black Cat, 127 
black gang, 4, 42 
black hats, 263 
black hawk, 127 
Black Hawk Division, 42 
black hole, the, 302 
black jack, 42 
black list, 339 
black magic, 263 
black Maria, 42 
black market, 127 

black pill, 42 

black strap, 42, 128 

Black Umbrella, 128 

blackbird, 127 

blackey, 42 

blackout, 128 

blade time, 263 

blank file, 128 

blanket drill, 128 

blanket soldier, 128 

blanket wife, 128 

blankets, 128 

blast, 128, 339 

blast furnace, 236 

blaze away at, 128 

bless, 339 

blimp, 42 

blind, 43 

blind flying, 128 

blind pig, 43, 128 

blip, 128 

blister foot, 128 

blister mechanic, 128 

blister-skin, 43 

blitz, 128 

blitz baby, 129 

blitz bachelor, 129 

blitz buggy, 129 

Blitz Day, 129 

blitz flu, 129 

blitz it, 129 

blitz wagon, 129 

blitzed out, 129 

blitzkrieg, 129 

blitzy, 129 

blizzard, 4 

blob stick, 129 

blob stock, 129 

blockbuster, 129 

blockbusting, 130 

blonde and sweet, 130 

blood, 130, 263 

blood bank, 130 

blood chit, 339 

blood stripe, 263 

blood wagon, 130 

blood wings, 263 

blood, sweat, and tears, 130 

bloodbath, 130 

blooded, 43 

bloodmobile, 236 

Bloody Nose Ridge, 130 

Bloody One, 263 

bloomers, 130 

blooper, 302 

blooper man, 263 

blotter machine, 130 

blotto, 130 

blouse, 130 

blow away, 263 

blow job, 130, 236 

blow one's top, 130 

blow smoke, 263 

blow Z's, 263 

blowboat, 302 

blower, 302 

blowoff, 339 

blowtorch, 236 

blue, 263 

Blue and Gray Division, 43 

Blue and the Gray, the, 4 

blue balls-type situation, 263 

Blue Bark, 339 

blue boy, 43 

blue feature, 263 

blue funk squad, 43 

blue job, 130 

blue letter mail, 130 

blue light, 4 

Blue Max, 263 

blue on blue, 302 

blue Ridge Division, 43 

Blue, the, 4 

blue top, 339 

Blue Trees, 263 

blue triangle, 44 

bluebacks, 4 

bluecoat, 4 

blues, 5, 263 

BMEWS, 339 

boar's nest, 131 

boat people, 263 

boat-tailing, 44 

Bob, 302 

bobtail, 131 

bobtail hotel, 131 

bobtailed, 44 

boche, 44 

boche aspirin, 44 

body bag, 263 

body snatcher, 44, 131 

bog pocket, 131 

bogey, 131, 263, 339 

boghammers, 302 

bogsaat, 339 

bogus, 302 

bohica, 374 

boiler plate, 339 

boilermakers, 131 

bokoo, 44 

bolo, 131, 263 

bolo badge, 302 

bolo squad, 27 

boloed, 303 

bolognas, 131 

bom-de-bom, 264 

INDEX • 397 

bomb bay, 131 

bomb pocket, 264 

bomb run, 207 

bomb-aiming run, 207 

bomb-up, 131 

bombardier, 131 

bombardier's dream, 131 

bomber's moon, 131 

bombing run, 207 

bombs on, 131 

bomphlet, 131 

bone, 131 

bone bootlick, 131 

bone dome, 303, 374 

bone jar, 44 

bone jaw, 44 

bonedaddy/bonemama, 374 

bonswar, 44 

bonswart, 44 

bonus damage, 339 

boo-coo, 264 

BOOB, 339 

boob, 131 

boob squad, 131 

boobies, 264 

bobby trap, 131 

booby-trap, 132 

boodle, 28, 132 

boodle bag, 132 

boogie out of Dodge, 303 

boom dust, 132 

boom wagon, 132 

boom-boom, 264 

boom-boom girl, 264 

boom-boom house, 264 

boomer, 264, 339 

boondockers, 132, 237 

boondocks, 28 

boonie rat, 264 

boonierat, 264 

boonies, 264 

boot, 28, 44, 132, 264 

boot camp, 28, 132 

boot hill, 132 

boot lace, 44 

boot-top-level morale, 303 

bootle, 132 

bootleg, 132 

bootleg copy, 340